The Future of the Humanities Will Be Demand-Led

gregoireIX

Grégoire IX approbation de la Decretals (détail) 1511. Fresque Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

The following is an unpolished contribution to some recent debates about the wisdom of defending, or ceasing to defend, the humanities. In what follows, I do not discuss what is deep, rich, and wonderful about the humanities. People who already care already know. I believe the public discussion ought to start somewhere else.

When I think about the future of the humanities, I wonder why something that is so imaginative and  absorbing– so obviously disconnected from “making stuff” and “getting ahead” – would ever be tolerated in our society. I think that’s where discussion of the fate of the humanities ought to start, since humanistic thinking of one form or another has been around for a long time, ever since universities were given, by papal gift, the power to confer their own degrees in the 13th century. Why on earth would the Pope give anyone that kind of freedom, which would eventually include freedom of university masters from prosecution for heresy? (Think of Aquinas in scholastic debate on the thesis: God does not exist.) Why let students read all kinds of potentially subversive things in the arts curriculum, even if it was in Latin? The brutal, pragmatic answer: the papal bureaucracy required literate scribes, and universities trained them. It was a deal the Pope had to make.

I wouldn’t shy away from making the same argument today. We need people who actually know how to read and write – who can communicate remotely in large, far flung organizations. If you know how to write well, your ability to advance in a networked bureaucracy multiplies. Indeed, communication through such networks *is* work in the 21st century, so there are a lot of opportunities for humanists to ply their skills. Look at someone who is commanding the world from a Blackberry. Many such people started out as good writers, even if they eventually arrived at the point where they could do their persuading telegraphically – with their thumbs!

The second thing that needs to be said about the humanities is this: the humanities exist to give fundamentalism a run for its money. (I assume fundamentalisms come in many forms: ethnocentric, theological, economic, scientistic, etc.) Get rid of the humanities, and you’ll be spending a lot more time with fundamentalists. In a democratic republic, the humanities are an infrastructure investment, providing the cultural equivalent of a flood barrier. This case is harder to make in a post-culture-wars world, but it is the strongest one I know. Yes, the strongest.

A third argument: global development demands humanistic learning as well as technological savvy. You cannot make intelligent investments, or avoid damaging military entanglements abroad, if you don’t have specific knowledge of other cultures. General Karl Eikenberry has talked eloquently about this, and Paul Smith of the British Council is organizing some events around the world on this topic. Smith, who is stationed here in Washington, talks often of an  “activist humanities.” Perhaps we need “humanities rapid response teams” that can be dispatched at a moment’s notice to deal with situations where deep, cultural knowledge is urgently needed.

Finally, there is the question of humanities vs. academic humanities. The latter is shrinking, and so we may well be entering a post-academic age of the humanities. That might be OK. I think growth in the humanities (yes, growth) is going to be demand-led in the coming decades: as the number of professional academic humanists shrinks (and it will), the driver of humanistic thinking will be people – all kinds of people – who are puzzled by the mysteries of being human and want to talk about them. I see no reason to be anything but hopeful about that kind of future, since it is this population that will want (once again) to spend time studying the incredible texts and objects we humanists find so interesting and important. Humanities professors are a vital part of this broader, demand-led model for the humanities, and may at times influence the demand. In the long term, I suspect that we will want those professors back, and building demand – in schools, public libraries, around dinner tables– is what we ought to do next.

 

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591 Early Modern Dramas plotted in PCA space, with 'core' group circled and variation boundary marked (line)

591 Early Modern Dramas plotted in PCA space, with ‘core’ group circled and variation boundary marked (line)

American/Australian tour

In March-April 2014, I’ll be in the USA giving a series of talks and conference presentations based around Visualising English Print, and our other work. In June I’ll be in Newcastle, Australia for the very exciting Beyond Authorship symposium.

I’ll address a series of different themes in the talks, but I’ll use this page as a single resource for references, since they are all (in my head at least) related.

Some of the talks will be theoretical/state of the field; some will be specific demonstrations of tools. The common thread is something like, ‘what do we think we are doing?’.

Here’s a general introduction (there’s a list of venues afterwards).

 

1 Counting things

Quantification is certainly not new in literary criticism, but it is becoming more noticeable, and, perhaps, more central as critics analyse increasingly large corpora. The statistical tools we use to explore complex data sets (such as Shakespeare’s plays or 20,000 texts from EEBO-TCP) may appear like magical black boxes: feed in the numbers, print out the diagrams, wow your audience. But what is happening to our texts in those black boxes? Scary mathematical things we can’t hope to understand or critique?

I want to consider the nature of the transformations we perform on texts when we subject them to statistical analysis. To some extent this is analogous to ‘traditional’ literary criticism: we have a text, and we identify other texts that are similar or different to it:

How does Hamlet relate to other Early Modern tragedies?

This is a question equally suited to quantitative digital analysis, and traditional literary critical approaches. The ways we define and approach our terms will differ between the two modes, as will the evidence employed, but essentially both answers to this question would involve comparison and assessment of degrees of similarity and difference.

But there is also something very different to traditional literary criticism going on when we count things in texts and analyse the resulting spreadsheets – something literary scholars may feel unable to understand or critique. What exactly are we doing when we ‘project’ texts into hyper-dimensional spaces and use statistical tools to reduce those spaces down to something we can ‘read’ as humans?

Perhaps surprisingly, studying library architecture, book history, information science, and cataloguing systems may help us to think about this. Libraries organised by subject ‘project’ their books into three-dimensional space, so that books with similar content are found next to each other. Many statistical procedures function similarly, projecting books into hyper-dimensional spaces, and then using distance metrics to identify proximity and distance within the complex mathematical spaces our analysis creates.

Once we understand the geometry of statistical comparison, we can grasp the potential literary significance of the associations identified by counting – and we can begin to understand the difference between statistical significance and literary significance, and see that it is the job of the literary scholar, not the statistician, to decide on the latter. A result can be statistically significant, but of no interest in literary terms – and findings that do not qualify for statistical significance may be crucial for a literary argument.

 

2 Evidence

Ted Underwood has been posing lots of challenging, and productive, questions for literary scholars doing, or thinking about, digital work. Perhaps most significant is his recent suggestion that the digital causes problems for literary scholars, who are used to basing their arguments, and narratives, on ‘turning points’ and exceptions. Digital evidence, however, collected at scale, tells stories about continuity and gradual change. A possible implication of this is that the shift to digital analysis and evidence will fundamentally change the nature of literary studies, as we break away from a model that has arguably been with us only since the Romantics, and return (?) to one which traces long continuities in genre and form.

One way of posing this question: does the availability of large digital corpora and tools put us at the dawn of a new world, or are we just in for more (a lot more) of the same?

 

3 Dates and Venues

28 March 2014: Renaissance Society of America Plenary Session: Current Trends in the Digital Renaissance (7.00-8.30pm); New York Hilton Midtown, Sutton Rooms: ‘Paradigm Shifts in British Renaissance Literature: The Digital Future’ #rsa14

2 April 2014: CUNY Graduate Centre, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York (2.00-4.00pm); Room 6495: ‘Flatlands: book history, literary criticism, and hyper-dimensional geometry’

7 April 2014: University of Pennsylvania,Digital Humanities Forum (12-1.30pm); Room 625-6 Penn Library (Registration required): ‘Visualising English Print’

Graduate Class: Shakespeare and the History of the Book: ‘The Language of Macbeth‘; preparatory reading: ‘Macbeth language HW2014’  not a public event

10 April 2014: Shakespeare Association of America, St Louis: 10-12 Seminar: ‘Shakespeare’s language: close and distant reading’; 12-1.30 and 3-6: Digital Projects Room: Visualising English Print; Translation Arrays (project demonstrations)

 

4 References and resources (these are grouped by topic)

(a) Statistics and hyper-dimensionality

Mick Alt, 1990, Exploring Hyperspace: A Non-Mathematical Explanation of Multivariate Analysis (London: McGraw-Hill) – the best book on hyper-dimensionality in statistical analysis: short, clear, and conceptually focussed

Most standard statistics textbooks give accounts of Principal Component Analysis (and Factor Analysis, to which it is closely related). We have found Andy Field, Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics: And Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (London: 2013, 4th ed.) useful.

Curiously, Early Modern drama, in the shape of Shakespeare, has a significant history in attempts to imagine hyper-dimensional worlds. E.A. Abbott, the author of A Shakespearian Grammar (London, 1870), also wrote Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (London, 1884), an early science fiction work full of Shakespeare references and set in a two-dimensional universe.

Flatland_cover

The significance of Flatland to many who work in higher-dimensional geometry is shown by a recent scholarly edition sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America (Cambridge, 2010 – editors William F. Lindgren and Thomas F. Banchoff), and its use in physicist Lisa Randall’s account of theories of multiple dimensionality, Warped Passageways (New York, 2005), pages 11-28 (musical interlude: Dopplereffekt performing Calabi-Yau Space – which refers to a theory of hyper-dimensionality).

Flatland itself is the subject of a conceptual, dimensional transformation at the hands of poet/artist Derek Beaulieu:

Derek Beaulieu, 2007, Flatland: a romance of many dimensions (York: information as material)

 

(b) Libraries and information science

In thinking about the physical development of libraries, I have enjoyed

James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce, 2013, The Library: A World History (London: Thames and Hudson) [- a beautiful book, and images are available on Will Pryce's blog]

and

Richard Gameson, 2006, ‘The medieval library (to c. 1450)’, Clare Sargent, 2006, ‘The early modern library (to c. 1640), and David McKitterick, 2006, ‘Libraries and the organisation of knowledge’, in Elizabeth Leedham-Green and Teressa Webber (eds), The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland vol. 1, ‘To 1640’, pp. 13-50, 51-65, and 592-615

and also, on real and imagined libraries:

Craig Dworkin, 2010, The Perverse Library (York: information as material)

Alec Finlay, 2001, The Libraries of Thought and Imagination (Edinburgh: Polygon Pocketbooks)

Alberto Manguel, 2006, The Library at Night (New Haven: Yale)

Roberto Bolaño, 2008 [1996], Nazi Literature in the Americas (New York: New Directions)

Jane Rickard, 2013, ‘Imagining the early modern library: Ben Jonson and his contemporaries’ (unpublished paper presented at Strathclyde University Languages and Literatures Seminar)

 

On data, information management and catalogues:

Ann M. Blair, 2010, Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven: Yale)

Markus Krajewski, 2011, Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs 1548-1929 (Cambridge, MSS: MIT) – on Conrad Gessner

Daniel Rosenberg, 2013, ‘Data before the Fact’, in Lisa Gitelman (ed), Raw Data is an Oxymoron (Cambridge, MSS: MIT), pp. 15-40 – combines digital analysis with a historicisation of the field, and the notion of ‘data’

 

(c) Ted Underwood and the digital future

Ted Underwood, 2013, Why Literary Periods Mattered: Historical Contrast and the Prestige of English Studies (Stanford) – especially chapter 6, ‘Digital Humanities and the Future of Literary History’, pp. 157-75 – on the strange commitment to discontinuity in literary studies, and the tendency of digital/at scale work to dissolve this into a picture of gradualism – Underwood cites his own work as an e.g. of the resistance scholars using quantification find within themselves to gradualism – and notes the temptation to seek fracture/outlier/turning point narrative

(also see Underwood’s discussion with Andrew Piper on Piper’s blog: http://bookwasthere.org/?p=1571 – balancing numbers and literary analysis – and Andrew Piper, 2012, Book There Was: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago) – see chapter 7, ‘By The Numbers’ on computation, DH).

Ted Underwood and Jordan Sellers, 2012, ‘The Emergence of Literary Diction’, Journal of Digital Humanities, 1.2 (Underwood 2013: 166-70 discusses this paper as an example of the pull to ‘event’ narrative in literary history, despite the gradualism in quantitative work).

 

Also related:  Underwood’s blog: ‘The Stone and the Shell’ http://tedunderwood.com

Scottbot ‘Bridging Token and Type’ http://www.scottbot.net/HIAL/?p=40088

 

‘longue durée’ History – Underwood has suggested that historians are more comfortable than literary scholars with the ‘long view’ that tends to come with digital evidence, and David Armitage and Jo Guldi have been arguing that the digital is shifting history back to this mode:

David Armitage and Jo Guldi, 2014, ‘The Return of the Longue Durée: An Anglo-American Perspective’, forthcoming (in French) in Annales. Histoire Sciences sociales, 69 [English version: http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/armitage/files/rld_annales_revised_0.pdf]

David Armitage, 2012, ‘What’s the big idea? Intellectual history and the longue durée’, History of European Ideas, 38.4, pp. 493-507

 

(d) Overview/examples of Digital work:

Early Modern Digital Agendas was an NEH-funded Institute held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2013. The EMDA website has an extensive list of resources for Digital work focussed on the Early Modern period.

Text

An excellent account of starting text-analytic work by a newcomer to the field:

http://earlymodernconversions.com/computer-based-textual-analysis-and-early-modern-literature-notes-on-some-recent-research/

 

Network

http://sixdegreesoffrancisbacon.com

 

Geo-spatial

An example of an info-heavy, ‘reference’ site that makes excellent use of maps – The Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry (!):  http://www.scottishshale.co.uk

http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca

 

Image

British Printed Images to 1700

Large number of heavy-weight funders/participants

Bpi1700 makes a database of  ‘thousands’ of prints and book illustrations available ‘in fully-searchable form’. However, searching is text-based (see http://www.bpi1700.org.uk/jsp/)

Development halted?  ‘Although the main development work has been completed, improvements will continue to be made from time to time. If you have problems or suggestions please contact the project (see the ‘contact’ page).’                             http://www.bpi1700.org.uk/index.html

‘Print of the month’ ended May/June 2009 http://www.bpi1700.org.uk/research/printOfTheMonth/print.html

 

Japanese woodblock prints                                                 http://ukiyo-e.org

The Ukiyo-e Search site is an amazing resource that represents something genuinely new (rather than just an extension of previously existing word-based catalogue searching), in that it allows searching via an uploaded image. For example, a researcher can upload a phone-image of a print she discovers in a library, and see if the same/similar prints have been previously described, and how many other libraries have copies or versions of the print. The search is ‘fuzzy’ and will often detect different states of altered woodblocks. [Thanks to @GilesBergel for the news that a similar functionality is coming to the Bodleian Ballads project.]

‘About’ page with demonstration video:                http://ukiyo-e.org/about

The Ukiyo-e site was created by one person, John Resig, an enthusiast for Ukiyo-e, who saw the need for the site as a research tool. Development and expansion on-going.

‘The database currently contains over 213,000 prints from 24 institutions and, as of September 2013, has received 3.4 million page views from 150,000 people.’                                                                                                                         http://ukiyo-e.org/about

 

And finally, pictures of my kittens Arthur and Gracie, who will feature in the talks:

IMG_0827

Arthur can work a computer (he wrote the title of this post).

 

 

 

Arthur and Gracie

Arthur and Gracie

Posted in Counting Other Things, Early Modern Drama, Shakespeare, Visualizing English Print (VEP) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#MuchAdo #AboutData

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 4

Emma Pallant writes:

Many intriguing things to respond to in recent postings by Jonathan and Heather, but I’ll begin with the observation that chimes most clearly with the work we’ve been doing in the rehearsal room this week. The strongest note of recognition comes from the increased usage of terms of address that Jonathan  has observed.

 

To reiterate the point from Jonathan’s post, there is a fairly tight social group presented in Much Ado About Nothing: although we move through the social scale from a don, the Prince of Aragon, down to Hugh Oatcake of the watch, the characters we meet in the play seem fairly comfortable interacting with one another.  By that I mean we don’t see any obvious rift between social groups, there are no real strangers in the midst, no-one truly flouting convention, no licensed fool (unless you count Beatrice and Benedick) and no magical creatures or gods to challenge human hubris. Cupid seems to get name-checked as often as any Christian God and in fact, while we are in that realm, it’s interesting to note that there seems to be very little sense of any higher power at all (save for a few Biblical references and the presence of a fairly worldly Friar).  What we do have in our story is Don Pedro of Aragon and a small group of soldiers, who arrive at the home of Leonato and his family.  They agree to stay a month and everyone seems reasonably comfortable with this arrangement.  The ensuing marriages, friendships, confidences and liaisons (actual and possible) during their stay seem ‘easy’, in the sense that they cause no social ructions or conflicts when they are proposed, discussed or realised.

 

What we see, instead of a particularly broad social sweep, is that the narrowness of this social group seems to create a culture of anxiety, one of jealousy and rivalry, a place of comparison, ambition and social climbing.  Claudio’s new honours from the wars are glories born of Don John’s overthrow (potentially even thwarting an attempted coup or challenge to the Prince’s authority), and it seems that this resentment fuels, if not causes, Don John’s actions against Claudio in the thwarting of his marriage.  His ally in the plotting, Borachio, is branded as “deformed” (dressing in a way he should not, namely above his social standing) for “going up and down like a gentleman”.   Then of course there are the many other disguises and tricks that are enacted during the play, where characters take on the guise of another person, which from the first creates the chief anxiety in the world of the play, that of being supplanted or more specifically cuckolded.

 

This for the most part is the great big nothing there’s such an ado about.  Claudio – even though Don Pedro (his Prince, companion and friend) swears he will woo Hero ‘in his name’, is quick to believe that this friend has actually wooed for himself and is seen to be “of that jealous complexion”.   It is therefore no surprise to me that in this world of demob happy men where status is in a state of flux, people are keen to lock down identity where they can and name their roles to one another, to be known by their status or familial connection:  Prince, Count, Cousin, Brother, Signor, Father, Master Constable, Friend.

 

Even in the town scenes where we meet the watch (or more specifically the Prince’s Watch), where the social scale is further compacted, there are tussles over who’s who.  To write and read gives one some added status, but beyond this – and perhaps the respect that comes with age – there is no end of wrangling with plenty of intricacies amongst the sirs, sirrahs, friends, neighbours and the corrective “I am a gentleman” from Conrad. These can be played and received with varying degrees on sincerity or mocking of course, as we would today with the use of  ’mate’.

 

For Beatrice and Benedick and their dance toward marriage, they separately name and reiterate their roles as confirmed batchelors during the first half of the play and spend the second half working out how they might reinvent themselves if they volte face from those roles.  Even so, with the fairly constant titles of Lady Beatrice and Signor Benedick many of their verbal parries involve name-calling or rechristening one another – Signor Mountanto, Lady Disdain, the Prince’s Jester – so that their playfulness parodies the society around them.

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 3

The cast are now well into rehearsals, and you can see photos on @PallantPallant‘s twitter feed.

Meanwhile the data miners are about to get on planes to go to the Renaissance Society of America meeting in New York (#rsa14). Here’s a contribution from @heatherfro on the big pronoun question:

HF:
I’m still thinking about the best way to measure characters’ speech by gender, which is turning out to be a very interesting question. In the meantime, I did some poking around the Wordhoard system to see if I could find anything else about your pronoun question, and I think I have.
Leonato, not Benedick, uses the lemma she the most out of all the characters:

she_much_ado_Cast

Beatrice has a very big decline of her use of the lemma he in the play  - II.i has the most instances, and by the end of the play she doesn’t use the lemma at all…
muchado_he_beatrice
In Act 5 she mostly talks about herself:
beatrice_act_five

This is really interesting for me, though I can’t yet explain why – I suspect there’s something to be said about agency here.

After much I/me discussion between Benedick and Beatrice, we want her to be ending with Benedick by saying we, she doesn’t say we after Act Two, Scene I (2.i.45, 2.1.139; previously there’s one instance of we in 1.i.54). Benedick is the one to say it**, declaring:

 Benedick: Come, come, we are friends: let’s have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts and our wives’ heels.

(5.iv.117-118) and this raises more agency questions for me … I wonder what Emma  can say about Beatrice’s role, especially at the end of the play?

 

**Note by JH: my reading of these lines is that the we here is Benedick and Claudio, not Benedick and Beratrice – though the point stands, as Benedick uses a plural pronoun to refer to himself and Beatrice at 5.iv.91-2:

 A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts!

 He immediately shifts back into the singular as the two re-establish their witty antagonism:

 Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity.

 And Beatrice, perhaps true to character, never shifts:

 Beatrice: I would not deny you, but by this good day I yield upon great persuasion – and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.

 

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 2 (scroll down for the intro to these posts)

The previous finding was about the pronoun ‘she’. This one also uses Log-likelihood to identify words used far more frequently in Much Ado than they are in Shakespeare’s other work.

While ‘she’ is the highest scoring word on Log-likelihood, maybe more striking is a run of words that come next:

signor

prince

count

lady

don

cousin

brother

daughter

 

Aside from the last two, these are all *very* significantly raised: and they clearly share a function/meaning in that they are terms of address. Some (signor, don) might be said to be plot-related, in that they may reflect the particular setting of Much Ado – but that’s not true for most, and the finding is very robust (they are all strongly raised, even those not associated with this particular setting).

My initial explanation for this is that this tracks a relatively unusual format Much Ado has (unusual compared to Shakespeare’s other work): i.e., it depicts a relatively large group of relatively equal social status interacting relatively equally (note the relativelies!) – and does so in lots of prose. My impression is that most other plays focus on smaller groups, and feature interactions up and down the social scale more. There’s an unusually ‘flat’ social structure in Much Ado – and this is reflected in the profusion of address terms. I think there may be a comparison with City comedy to be made here, but that’s for later posts.

I wonder if Emma and the rest of the cast have noticed anything that chimes with this?

 

 

 

#MuchAdo #AboutData update 1

Word frequency findings: Loglikelihood (done with Wordhoard)

Method: this test looks at word frequency in the play, but not simple frequency (which is often not that interesting: words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ are the most frequent in every play).

What it looks for is words that are used more frequently or less frequently in the play than you would expect given Shakespeare’s usage in his other work. The program counts the totals for each word in the play (= ‘the analysis sample’) and compares them to the totals for the same words in all of Shakespeare (= ‘the reference sample’).

It looks for big rises or falls, and adjusts these against the overall frequency of the word to give a score for how unusual the result is, and how likely it is to be due to chance or not (significance). Results unlikely to be due to chance are given stars: highest rating is four stars.

In this test I excluded names, since it isn’t very interesting to find that Shakespeare uses Beatrice more in Much Ado than he does in his other work.

 

Standout findings

Finding 1.1

The word* with the biggest shift in usage compared to Shakespeare’s norm is the pronoun ‘she/her’ – with a significance rating of four stars, it is raised in this play way over its frequency elsewhere. To give you a sense of how much it is raised, Shakespeare normally uses ‘she’ 53 times every 10,000 words. In Much Ado, he uses it 131 times every 10,000 words.

There are just over 21,000 words in Much Ado. Let’s call that 20,000 for simplicity. This means Shakespeare uses ‘she’ around 262 times in the play. If he was behaving normally, he’d use it 106 times.

This is a big shift – an already frequent word is used two and a half times as often.

 

Why?

It is tempting to wonder if female characters are more prominent in Much Ado: are there more of them? Do they speak more lines? (We’ll ask Heather Froehlich if she has suggestions re this.)

But this result isn’t necessarily telling us that. What it tells us is that women are referred to more frequently in this play. Maybe it’s just that men talk about women a lot – or maybe men and women talk about women.

Anyway: there’s the first finding. Now over to Emma in the rehearsal room…

 

*I did this search on ‘lemma’, which automatically includes different forms of the ‘same’ word – so ‘she’ and ‘her’ are counted together.

AntConc Hit File for 'she' in MuchAdo

 

We’ve posted in the past about advising actors at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on the language of plays they are rehearsing. This is the first in an experimental series of short posts building on that process.

I’m going to be running some analyses on the language of Much Ado About Nothing and discussing the results with Emma Pallant (@PallantPallant), who will be playing Beatrice in a Globe touring production this year (2014).

Emma is an outstanding, and really thoughtful, actor (who crops up on the cover of this book on women making Shakespeare) -so whether I come up with anything interesting or not, the production is sure to be worth seeing. If you are in the UK, or Austria, there’s a chance the production will be close to you at some point in spring/summer (details of venues and ticket booking here).

We’ll also tweet about the data, using the hashtags #MuchAdo #AboutData

As a teaser/taster, click on the image at the top of this post for a quick overview of the distribution of the word ‘she’ across the play. Notice anything?

Jonathan (@wellsheisnt)

 

 

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Macbeth: The State of Play

We have a new chapter on the language of Macbeth which appears in this book from Arden. The chapter surveys previous work on the language of the play, and then offers some new analysis we’ve done, chiefly using WordHoard. Along the way, we consider the role of word frequency in literary analysis, and especially the word ‘the’ in Macbeth (we also think about word frequency in this post). Of course you are going to buy the book, which is currently (February 2014) available at a reduced price at the link above, but here is a pre-print of our chapter.

9781472503206

INTRODUCTION Ann Thompson 

THE TEXT AND ITS STATUS

Notes and Queries Concerning the Text of Macbeth Anthony B. Dawson

Dwelling ‘in doubtful joy’: Macbeth and the Aesthetics of Disappointment Brett Gamboa

 

HISTORY AND TOPICALITY

Politic Bodies in Macbeth Dermot Cavanagh

‘To crown my thoughts with acts’: Prophecy and Prescription in Macbeth Debapriya Sarkar

Lady Macbeth, First Ladies and the Arab Spring: The Performance of Power on the Twenty-First Century Stage Kevin A. Quarmby

 

CRITICAL APPROACHES AND CLOSE READING

‘A walking shadow’: Place, Perception and Disorientation in Macbeth Darlene Farabee

Cookery and Witchcraft in Macbeth Geraldo U. de Sousa

The Language of Macbeth Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore

 

ADAPTATION AND AFTERLIFE

The Shapes of Macbeth: The Staged Text Sandra Clark

Raising the Violence while Lowering the Stakes: Geoffrey Wright’s Screen Adaptation of Macbeth Philippa Sheppard

The Butcher and the Text: Adaptation, Theatricality and the ‘Shakespea(Re)-Told’ Macbeth Ramona Wray

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Visualizing English Print, 1530-1800, Genre Contents of the Corpus

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 10.57.35 AM


Some features of the corpus, visualized here over time. Many of the linguistic and topical trends that we find in this data set will express the state of the corpus at a given moment in time. I have divided up the time series into groups containing three decades apiece. The visualization above displays the relative number of titles that we have classed according to the genre — what we are calling “Derived Genre” on the Y axis. Note that the size of plots in the stacked bar graphs does not represent the size of the texts involved: vertical size represents the number of items in that time period that have been so labeled. The names at left represent the order in which the different genres have been stacked, from bottom to top. At right, an alphabetical list of the genres designated by their colors.

An obvious trend that will be born out in the analyses that follow: the corpus contains a lot of what we are calling Religious Prose items from 1530-1709, but after this point, the number of Religious Prose items declines. After 1709, we see  more drama (after a compression during the closure of the theater’s mid-century) in the aqua color, along with more Nonfictional Prose (cyan), Fictional Prose (rose), and perhaps too Verse Collections (magenta). These shifts in the relative proportions of different genres should not be taken as representative of everything printed during each of these periods. The corpus itself is a small sample of that larger field. But because the selection of texts was random, excluding only items of less than 500 words, we expect there to be some trends within the corpus that are representative of larger trends in print culture. As the project develops, we should have a better sense of just what you can learn from 1080 texts in a field that is much larger.

Since we measured word types (according to Docuscope Junior LATs or topics) as a proportion of all words in a given text, the length of individual texts should not significantly affect the distribution of those types of words. Nevertheless, it helps to see the lengths of different kinds of texts. Our text tagger treats the spaces between words as tokens so that word combinations can be accommodated or excluded; the sum of tokens on the y-axis thus includes these with the words and punctuation:

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Unsurprisingly, Religious Prose texts tend to be quite long, whereas Ballads are almost always short. Fictional Prose texts are reasonably long, as are Biographical texts. All of this is in keeping with what I, at least, would expect from texts belonging to these genres. It should be noted that the genre designations you see in our spreadsheet are subjective and so arguable. We asked a member of our team, Jason Whitt, to apply them. Someone else looking at this corpus might come up with different designations, and we understand that there will be debate on this score. You can see the full list of our classifications by consulting the “Genre” column in the spreadsheet of the corpus.

Noting the relative decline in the amount of items designated as Religious Prose in the corpus over time, I became curious about a seemingly parallel decline in words that bear the DSJ tag “Common Authorities” — words mentioning entities invested with some type of communally sanctioned power (God, king, church, etc.). You can see the declining proportion of such words in texts as the decades roll on. In the chart below, the position of dots on the y-axis shows the percentage of tokens in each text (each dot) that were given the “Common Authorities” tag. Please note that dramatic texts in this graph have been colored red.

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As always, we like to see the tokens in action, and so I offer a sample text that is high in this variable. The text is, The Epiphanie of the Church (1590), and can be consulted below.

A00748_1590_Theepiphanieofthechu.txt

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