For your final projects, you will use one or more tools, platforms, or applications to perform a “machine-assisted” reading of either Henry James’ In the Cage or Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, both of which you can download from Project Gutenberg.
Text analysis tools include Voyant, TAPoR, MONK, Crawdad (free trial); visualization tools include Many Eyes, SIMILE Widgets, and TextArc; simulation platforms include Scratch and Second Life; and social network graphing tools include Gephi and yED (Liz Shayne, a former NYU grad student, has a wonderful post on using yED to read Daniel Deronda). For a complete list of tools available for this assignment, see Alan Liu’s Toy Chest and/or The Rhetoric of Text Analysis: Tools. You might also try working through the list of TAPoR recipes for text analysis.
Throughout the term we will be considering the changes in everyday reading practices. For the final, we will turn our attention to what we might call professional reading practices – more specifically, academic literary criticism as it has been re-imagined by the digital humanities. Put another way, attention continues to shift from the solitary to the computer-aided reader. As you will see in Geoffrey Rockwell’s overview of the work of text analysis, Stephen Ramsay’s comments on algorithmic criticism, and Franco Moretti’s distant reading project, researchers are now able to run sophisticated syntactical queries and perform machine-assisted searches of large textual corpora. Instead of working with a database – e.g. the Internet Shakespeare Editions – you will work with a single text, in this case either Henry James’ or Herman Melville’s novella, the full text of which you can download from Project Gutenberg.
Our basic question is this: how does text analysis enhance human interpretation? We will also consider how and to what extent the traditional modes and methods of humanist inquiry can be supported by machine reading. How can they be mutually productive? In what sense does machine reading ask us to reconsider our governing assumptions about what a text is, what is involved in “proper” reading, and what knowledge production looks like? What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting what we might call a computational perspective on a literary text?
Your assignment is to use the tool or tools of your choice to analyze the novella of either James or Melville and then to reflect on these questions in a 4-5 page critical commentary on the data that results from your machine-assisted text analysis.
Final projects–with at least one image of your data–due in hard copy December 20. At the same time you should post on this blog page a short reflective statement about the utility and value of machine-assisted reading for humanities scholarship. What in your view are the possibilities and limitations of using a text-analysis or visualization tool in your coursework? The questions are similar to those posed for your data analysis, but in that piece of writing you will focus on your individual or subjective reading practices, whereas your short blog post should consider the questions from an institutional perspective. We will discuss further in class.