digital humanities

Data: Three Provocations

In my time today, I would like to offer a set of provocations that, I hope, will allow us to expand our understanding of the nature of data, its uses, and its implications for literary study. These provocations number three, and they are each derived from that walking provocation, Thomas Jefferson.

What Isn't Data in Literary Studies?

When I began thinking about this, I had to ask “What isn’t data in literary studies?” Everything is data, in some sense, and it depends on the position of the analyst and the nature of the project. So I want to narrow the question by situating it: what is data to whom? and for what? In this talk, “data” is that which can serve as input for computer analysis, by someone working with texts using the type of Natural Language Machine Learning I’ve worked with to isolate significant word clusters, topic modeling.

Description as Data in Literary Studies

Addressing the question, "what is data in literary studies," offers the chance to enlarge our interpretational procedures to include new methods and materials. But also to apply existing methods of analysis to new materials and questions. Quantitative approaches to archives and texts developed by digital humanists have offered one such expansion. These approaches often treat literature as a data mine. In response, I propose that literature is a heuristic for managing and conceptualizing data.

The Tolson Exception: The Anthology in the 21st Century

Whenever a new anthology of modern U.S. poetry comes along, it seems that some distinguished critic or other is fated to take up arms, defending his or her vision of canonical distinction against the treachery of "inclusiveness." The latest eminence to cast herself as such a centurion is Helen Vendler, who reproaches Rita Dove's Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) in a review that has garnered no shortage of sensational, morbid attention ("Are These the Poems to Remember?," NYRB, November, 2011).