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Humanist Archives: Oct. 10, 2019, 7:54 a.m. Humanist 33.310 - what we are not ready for

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 310.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: vzafrin@bu.edu
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.306: what are we not ready for? (20)

    [2]    From: Bill Benzon 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.306: what are we not ready for? (70)

        Date: 2019-10-09 13:04:56+00:00
        From: vzafrin@bu.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.306: what are we not ready for?


In response to your request for comments, I have a question: what
elements of digital humanities work do not involve being helpful to the
older disciplines? To my mind, we are all trying to answer the same
questions and advance knowledge and understanding of ourselves. Perhaps
DH tools and methods aren't helpful to some longer-practiced modes of
inquiry, but those aren't practiced for their own sake, and so are not
equivalent to the disciplines themselves. Would you please clarify what
you're thinking about?

Thank you,

Dr. Vika Zafrin (she/her/hers)
Digital Scholarship Librarian
Boston University
+1 617.358.6370 | bu.edu/disc

        Date: 2019-10-09 12:27:49+00:00
        From: Bill Benzon 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.306: what are we not ready for?

> On Oct 9, 2019, at 5:51 AM, Humanist  wrote:


>        Date: 2019-10-09 09:32:28+00:00
>        From: Willard McCarty 
>        Subject: what are we not ready for?


> challenge", but let that one go. My question for here is, following
> Bruner, for what are we not ready? And, if not much of a stimulating as
> well as practical nature comes to mind, how do we find out? (Hint,
> likely unnecessary: other disciplines can help a lot.)

I have a very specific suggestion. Back in 2013 Matt Jockers published
Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History, which had a remarkable graph
on its cover. The graph is from Chapter 9, "Influence". Nan Z. Da dismissed
it with a long paragraph (610-611) in her rather remarkable, shall we say,
article, The Computational Case against Computational Literary Studies, Critical
Inquiry 45, Spring 2019, 601-639. Nonetheless CI made that graph the cover image
for it's online forum about that essay:

That graph consists of 3300 nodes, with connecting arcs. Each node represents an
Anglophone novel from the 19th century. Each novel was characterized on roughly
600 different features, so the graph exists in a space of 600 dimensions. The
image, of course, has been projected onto two dimensions. The most interesting
thing about that graph is that the underlying database contains no dates, yet
the horizontal order of dots in the graph is strongly correlated with time. How
did that come about? As I've said, Da dismissed it. As far as I can tell,
while he recognizes that there is something interesting and important about it,
Jockers doesn't know quite what to make of it. Neither does anyone else.

You can find my most recent attempt in a draft at Academia.edu: On the direction
of literary history: How should we interpret that 3300 node graph in
Macroanalysis? https://www.academia.edu/40550795/On_the_direction_of_literary_hi

Here's the abstract:

> In Macroanalysis (2013) Matthew Jockers created a graph depicting similarity
relationships between 3300 19th century Anglophone novels, each characterized by
600 features. The graph is derived from a database that contains no date
information. When projected onto two-dimensions and visualized, however, the
graph has a gradient that is aligned with time. I 1) interpret the graph as a
trace of the activity of complex dynamical system (19th century Anglophone
novels), 2) conclude that the system has an inherent temporal direction, and 3)
contrast it with systems that evolve through random or through cyclic
trajectories. I suggest that as this system evolves the range of design
possibilities for novels becomes larger, allowing them to encompass a greater
range of human experience. I conclude by asserting that evolving literary
culture is itself a force in history.

Bill Benzon



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