ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship

I somehow failed to post about this when it was announced last summer, but I’ve received an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship for the 2014-15 academic year to work on the project “Literary Geography at Scale.”

Things are going well so far; I’ll be updating the site here with reports as the research moves along. Eventually, there will be a full site to access and visualize the data (think Google Ngrams for geographic data). In the meantime, here’s the project abstract:

Literary Geography at Scale uses natural language processing algorithms and automated geocoding to extract geographic information from nearly eleven million digitized volumes held by the HathiTrust Digital Library. The project extends existing computationally assisted work on American and international literary geography to new regions, new historical periods – including the present day – and to a vastly larger collection of texts. It also provides scholars in the humanities and social sciences with an enormous yet accessible trove of geographic information. Because the HathiTrust corpus includes books published over many centuries in a variety of languages and across nearly all disciplines, the derived data is potentially useful to researchers in a range of humanities and computational fields. Literary Geography at Scale is one of the largest humanities text-mining projects to date and the first truly large-scale study of 20th and 21st century literature.

Two Events at Stanford

I’m giving a couple of talks at Stanford next week. Announcements from the Lit Lab and CESTA:

On Monday, May 19th, 2014 at 10am, The Literary Lab will host Matt Wilkens, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. His talk, entitled, “Computational Methods, Literary Attention, and the Geographic Imagination,” will focus on his recent work that combines Digital and Spatial Humanities research as he investigates the literary representation of place in American Literature.

For those interested in the role of Digital Humanities within humanities disciplines, Matt will also be leading a seminar/discussion on the institutional place of Digital Humanities, particularly focusing on its role in the classroom. This event, “Digital Humanities and New Institutional Structures” will take place on Tuesday, May 20th at 12pm in CESTA (the Fourth Floor of Wallenberg Hall, Building 160), Room 433A. Lunch will be provided.

Matthew Wilkens: Geospatial Cultural Analysis and Literary Production

An interview with the DH group at Chicago in advance of my talk there this Friday. Looking forward!

digital humanities blog @UChicago

the distribution of US city-level locations, revealing a preponderance of literary–geographic occurrences in what we would now call the Northeast corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston, but also sizable numbers throughout the South, Midwest, Texas, and California. The distribution of US city-level locations, revealing a preponderance of literary–geographic occurrences in what we would now call the Northeast corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston, but also sizable numbers throughout the South, Midwest, Texas, and California.

Matthew Wilkens, Assistant Professor of English at Notre Dame University, will be speaking at the Digital Humanities Forum on March 7 about Geospatial Cultural Analysis and its intersection with Literary Production. Specifically, Wilkens’ research asks: Using computational analysis, how can we define and assess the geographic imagination of American fiction around the Civil War, and how did the geographic investments of American literature change across that sociopolitical event?

We spoke to him about his choice to use a quantitative methodology, the challenges that were consequently faced, and the overall future for the Digital Humanities. This is what he had to say:

What brought you to Digital Humanities methodologies?

I guess it was…

View original post 1,715 more words

HTRC UnCamp Keynote

I’m giving a keynote address at the upcoming HathiTrust Research Center UnCamp (September 8-9 at UIUC). My talk aside, the event looks really cool. I attended last year and learned a lot about both the technical details of using the HTRC’s resources and the longer-range plans of the center. Highly recommended if you’re anywhere nearby (or even if you’re not).

There’s more information, including registration info, at the link above. Registration closes August 31. My talk is 8:30 am (central time) on Monday, September 9. Don’t know if it’ll be streamed or otherwise made available at some point. I’ll be talking about the newest results from the literary geography and demographics work, including some full-on statistical modeling of the relationships between geographic attention and multiple socioeconomic variables. Which reminds me that I should put at least some of the prettier pictures up on the blog sometime …

[Update: Abstracts and slides for my talk and for Christopher Warren’s (on the “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” project) are now available at the conference site linked above.]

Video of My Talk on Geolocation at Illinois

I gave a talk on my recent work — titled “Where Was the American Renaissance: Computation, Space, and Literary History in the Civil War Era” — as part of the Uses of Scale planning meeting at Illinois earlier this month. Ted Underwood — convener of the meeting and driving force behind the Uses of Scale project — has posted a video of the event, which includes my talk as well as Ted’s extended intro and a follow-up round table discussion on future directions in literary studies.

The event was lovely; my thanks to Ted for the invitation, to the attendees for some very useful discussion, and to the Mellon Foundation and the University of Illinois for funding the Uses of Scale project, with which I’ve been involved as a co-PI over the past year.

Fish’s Object

Stanley Fish has a piece in the New York Times today that makes some use of my contribution to Debates in the Digital Humanities. The DH Debates collection isn’t online yet, but similar work of mine can be found in Post45 and (with updates) in the proceedings of the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities and Computer Science (PDF).

Jeremy Rosen anticipated most of what Fish says in his lengthy response to the Post45 essay. My reply to Rosen probably works equally well as a response to Fish.

Here I’ll only add that while I appreciate the attention, I have my doubts about Fish’s sincerity when he proposes to defend the pursuit of authorial intent (in Milton, no less!).

[My colleague Steve Fallon—the distinguished Miltonist—observes that Fish frequently uses a different, constructivist account of imputed authorial intent in his own criticism. But I’d maintain that this is sufficiently different from the naïve version offered in the column as to be an entirely distinct thing.]

Update: Ted Underwood has a smart reply on the relationship between theory and experiment or, more humanistically, where our ideas come from.

Update 2: Mark Lieberman at Language Log runs some revealing numbers on the P’s and B’s in Areopagitica that were part of Fish’s set piece.

Update 3: Martin Mueller has a long and wide-ranging response to Fish’s series of articles, including a defense-cum-clarification of my own work. Worth a read and I thank him for it.

Job News II

I’m very happy to say that I’ll join the English faculty at Notre Dame in the fall. The position (in American fiction after 1900) is great, the people are terrific, the university is lovely. I couldn’t be happier and I’m tremendously excited to get started in my new home.

In the meantime, I’m particularly grateful for my colleagues in American Culture Studies at Wash U, whom I will be leaving sooner than planned. My time in St. Louis has been wonderful: stimulating, friendly, generous of attention and resources — everything a scholar and a person could want. I’m sorry to leave, but happy I’ll only be moving a few hours up the road. (OK, six and a half, but who’s counting?)

As I said the last time around, nothing much should change here on the blog. I’ll post new contact info once I have it, but that won’t happen until August. In the meantime, I’ll be in St. Louis through the end of the semester and into the summer.

Oh, and those maps of named places in American fiction are coming shortly …

Book Revisions with LaTeX and Git

As anticipated, a quiet summer around these parts as I revise my manuscript on the theory and mechanisms of midcentury fiction. A quick technical update and a couple of questions for those with experience using Git source control for writing projects.

I spent a chunk of the day today getting my head around Git. I’d been thinking about using it for a while and was helped along by my decision to dump Word in favor of LaTeX a couple of months ago; Word’s binary blobs aren’t well suited to version control (though that’s the least of Word’s problems, really). I also use Dropbox, which does basic automatic versioning, so I hadn’t had much reason to mess with the complexity of Git until now. But Dropbox (reasonably enough) only keeps a finite number of old versions of a file, and it doesn’t let you flag any of them to let your future self know what changed in any given rev. And there are a lot of revs, since it creates a new one every time you save a file (there’s no notion of a commit). This is all totally reasonable for Dropbox, which is a dead simple tool that’s made my working life better in every way. But I wanted more control as I hack away at my very long, slightly disorganized, heavily commented, totally in flux mid-revision book.

So … Git. What’s both cool and terrifying about Git is that it morphs the live files in your working directory as you switch from one branch or revision to another. See this concise explanation of the process from Ben Lynn. (Note to self: Do not switch branches while a file is open in your editor.) Git’s worth a look if you haven’t dealt with modern revision control systems before; much easier and niftier than my brief encounters with CVS years ago had lead me to believe.

Anyway, two questions for those more experienced with this stuff than I:

  1. I’m planning to use branches for the major edits to each chapter, so that I can easily go back and consult or restore the large sections that are inevitably hacked off along the way. Does this make sense? Are tags or clones more appropriate? Are branches overkill? Should I just trust my commented commits on a single trunk? What does your workflow for writing and revising with Git look like?
  2. Is there any reason not to combine Git and Dropbox? I’ve put my .git directory inside my current project directory, which already lives in my Dropbox folder. I can’t see any harm in this beyond a bit of redundancy, but I’d welcome any warnings from hard-won experience.

Two last things:

One, I’ll put the full manuscript on GitHub or similar once it’s no longer filled with embarrassing and/or libelous comments.

Two, tomorrow’s project is to merge the massive changes between the existing chapter on William Gaddis and the much more compact version that’s been accepted by Contemporary Literature. This is a good problem to have, but trying to manage it is the proximate cause of all this version control business.

Oh, and DH 2010 starts the day after tomorrow. Very sorry not to be in London, but I’ll have the #dh2010 firehose open next to TeXShop for the next few days.