February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m giving a talk at the University of Chicago Digital Humanities Forum in a couple of weeks. Details at that link and reproduced here. Looking forward to the event and hope to see some of the many cool DH folks in Chicago there.
Date: March 7, 2014
Location: Regenstein Library 122
Time: 12:00-2:00 pm
Abstract: Scholars have long understood that there is a close relationship between literary production and the large-scale cultural contexts in which books are written. But it’s difficult to pin down the many ways in which this relationship might work, especially once we expand our interest from individual texts to systems of production and reception. In this talk, Wilkens offers a computationally assisted analysis of changes in geographic usage within more than a thousand works of nineteenth-century American fiction, arguing that literary-spatial attention around the Civil War was at once more diverse and more stable than has been previously shown. He examines correlations between literary attention and changes in demographic factors that offer preliminary insights into the driving forces behind a range of shifts in literary output. Wilkens also discusses the future of the project, which will soon expand to include millions of books from the early modern period to the present day.
January 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
The syllabus for my current digital humanities grad seminar is now available. It’ll evolve a bit over the semester, mostly by gaining specific exercises and answers.
I tried to take my own advice from the last time I taught the class as I put together this version; there’s more (and more formal) programming and machine learning, different treatments of the intro to DH and of visualization, more GIS, and (much) less media studies. But if you think there are things I’ve missed, I’d me curious to know. Or, well, I know there are a lot of things I’ve been forced to leave out. Since time remains stubbornly finite, if you think something should be added, what might be cut to make room for it?
January 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
A call for papers or panel proposals for the Digital Americanists session at the American Literature Association 2014 conference (Washington, DC, May 22-25, 2014) is available on the DA site. We’re hoping for great stuff; if you’re working on something interesting, check the CFP and drop us a line soon – the deadline in January 21!
December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
- Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist (2001). A possible text for the Congo class, though I’d probably go with something by Mabanckou instead.
- Coetzee, J. M. The Childhood of Jesus (2013). Very good, as always.
- Fountain, Ben. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012). Wanted to like this one, as the consensus best novel of the recent wars, but it left me kind of cold.
- Klosterman, Chuck. The Visible Man (2011). Interesting premise: Try to think through all the implications of selective invisibility.
- Kushner, Rachel. The Flamethrowers (2013). Not sure it’s as good as everyone says, but it is good.
- Ledgard, J. M. Submergence (2013). Two-thirds of a really good book. The African sections are wonderful; the oceanography bits, not so much. Has the same problem Richard Powers does in writing about scientists — can’t get over a fawning love of science itself that finds expression as insufferably polymathic scientists.
- Mantel, Hilary. Bring Up the Bodies (2012). I’m a shameless fan. The last Wolf Hall book is coming soon, right? Please?
- Nutting, Alissa. Tampa (2013). The comparisons to Lolita are entirely unearned, though I suppose one could do worse than “not as good as Nabokov.”
- Pava, Sergio De La. A Naked Singularity (2012). Best book I’ve read in a long time.
- Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. (2013) Really enjoyed this; as with Coetzee, I’m a sucker for everything Pynchon writes.
- Saunders, George. Tenth of December (2013). Pretty much as good as everyone says, though I still never know what to do with short stories.
- Winterbach, Ingrid. The Book of Happenstance. (2011). An interesting, patient novel, translated from Afrikaans.
A dozen books in all. Once again, not setting any records, but an enjoyable year. I’m on leave next fall, so may do a bit better in 2014. In the meantime, I’ve just started Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire …
December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
My article, “The Geographic Imagination of Civil War-Era American Fiction,” is in the latest issue of American Literary History (which happens to be the 100th issue of the journal). The easiest way to get it is probably via Muse (direct link, paywall), though it’s also available from Oxford (publisher of ALH, temporarily free to all). If your institution doesn’t subscribe to either of those outlets, drop me a line and I’ll send you a PDF offprint. I’m really pleased to see the piece in print, especially in an issue with so many people whose work I admire.
The article presents some of my recent work on geolocation extraction in a form that’s more complete than has been possible in the talks I’ve given over the last year or so. There’s more coming on a number of fronts: geographic attention as a function of demographic and economic factors, a wider historical scope, a (much) larger corpus, some marginally related studies of language use in the nineteenth century (with my students Bryan Santin and Dan Murphy), and more. Looking forward to sharing these projects in the months ahead.
September 29, 2013 § 5 Comments
Last week I finished a fellowship proposal to fund work on geolocation extraction across the whole of the HathiTrust corpus. It’s a big project and I’m excited to start working on it in the coming months.
One thing that came up in the course of polishing the proposal—but that didn’t make it into the finished product—is how volumes in languages other than English might be handled. The short version is that the multilingual nature of the HathiTrust corpus opens up a lot of interesting ground for comparative analysis without posing any particular technical challenges.
In slightly more detail: There are a fair number of HathiTrust volumes in languages other than English; the majority of HT’s holdings are English-language texts, but even 10 or 20% of nearly 11 million books is a lot. Fortunately, this is less of an issue than it might appear. You won’t get good performance running a named entity recognizer trained on English data over non-English texts, but all you need to do is substitute a language-appropriate NER model, of which there are many, especially for the European languages that make up the large bulk of HT’s non-English holdings. And it’s not hard at all to identify the language in which a volume is written, whether from metadata records or by examining its content (stopword frequency is especially quick and easy). In fact, you can do that all the way down to the page level, so it’s possible to treat volumes with mixed-language content in a fine-grained way.
About the only difference between English and other languages is that I won’t be able to supply as much of my own genre- and period-specific training data for non-English texts, so performance on non-English volumes published before about 1900 may be a bit lower than for volumes in those languages published in the twentieth century (since the available models are trained almost exclusively on contemporary sources). On the other hand, NER is easier in a lot of languages other than English because they’re more strongly inflected and/or rule bound, so this may not be much of a problem. And in any case, the bulk of the holdings in all languages are post-1900. When it comes time to match extracted locations with specific geographic data via Google’s geocoding API, handling non-English strings is just a matter of supplying the correct language setting with the API request.
Anyway, fun stuff and a really exciting opportunity …