Nordic Textual Resources and Practices:
Peter Leonard, Director of Yale University Library Digital Humanities Lab.
Towards a Macroscope for the Study of Nordic Literatures
The study of Nordic literatures is one marked by a series of complexities that pose significant challenges as we move toward developing meaningful approaches to the study of literature at the scales made possible by the vast and successful digitization projects underway across the Nordic region. These complexities arise not only from the linguistic variation across the region, where seeming proximity of the languages can lead to a false sense of security, but also from divergences in concepts of canon, periodization, and the divergent cultural trajectories that characterize the region. Rather than resign in the face of this complexity, we should embrace it as a challenge that may allow us to make intriguing discoveries about literary influence, development and disruption. Modeling this complexity requires a bold turn toward an encompassing methodology that weds the time-tested benefits of close reading, philology, and literary history to emerging approaches of distant reading such as network analysis and probabilistic modeling. Consequently, we propose developing a “macroscope” for the study of Nordic literature. Katy Börner, writing in the CACM, articulates the power of the macroscope for the study of complexity, noting that the macroscope “provide[s] a ‘vision of the whole,’ helping us ‘synthesize’ the related elements and detect patterns, trends, and outliers while granting access to myriad details. Rather than make things larger or smaller, macroscopes let us observe what is at once too great, slow, or complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend” (Börner 2011, 60). In our talk, we present some initial steps toward realizing a macroscope tuned specifically to the exigencies of the Nordic literary world.
We present a series of three tools that could be integrated into a rich study environment for Nordic literature. The first tool allows for the alignment of closely similar passages, allowing a scholar to focus on close comparisons between works. Sequence alignment has always been a powerful tool of the philologist, but has usually required painstaking, manual work. This tool makes such alignment far quicker and, by relaxing the standards of precision, can be used to detect similarities within and across authors. The second tool, subcorpus topic modeling (STM), radically lowers the barriers to entry for scholars interested in using probabilistic methods for discovering latent semantic patterns in corpuses. The tool allows the user to fashion a virtual “fishing net” to discover similar semantic patterns (topics) in much larger, unlabeled corpora. The third tool makes use of word-embedding models, to allow the user to trace differences in language use patterns within authorships, across authorships, and across historical periods.
We recognize that these tools constitute baby steps on the way to a more unified macroscope for the study of Nordic literature, and that many more tools based on sound methodology should be devised. Many additional challenges—from the development of accessible and machine actionable corpora, to the development of tools that can consistently and accurately deal with linguistic differences across the modern Scandinavian languages—lie ahead. Yet the promise of these approaches, which will allow scholars to work across traditions, to engage reading from the distant to the close and everything in between, and to situate these studies in a rich historical context of cultural change, is too appealing not to engage.
The Digital, the Humanities, and the Philosophies of Technology:
New Natures of the Anthropocene and the Need for Humanistic Inquiry into the Digital
Nature is not without a history, and new natures are constantly produced through human technology and activities. This idea is currently framed as the Anthropocene, the geological Era of Man, which has been proposed as an official geologic era beginning c. 1950. The evidence for this new geologic era is based on new materials like radioactive isotopes and plastics and the redistribution of materials like carbon from consumed fuels. The Anthropocene’s wide and deep human influence on the planet also corresponds with the creation of digital technologies in the modern era. Presenting examples from webcams, visitor information boards, databases, and other forms of digitally augmented nature, I will argue that it is through the digital that many humans now come to know and experience new nature. Knowledge of nature has always been mediated through technology, but the digital has enabled both greater physical distance and conceptual closeness with nature. I propose that digital humanities needs to move beyond thinking of the digital as a tool to thinking of the digital as a part of the ecosystem of the Anthropocene’s new nature, shaping and reshaping both culture and the environment.
Visual and Multisensory Representations of Past and Present
Fluid, frozen, aggregated: On discursive images, visual discourse, and the rematerialization of data
After a brief overview of the history of digital art history, this lecture will discuss the discursive potential of (digital) images, remediating or responding upon each other, circulating in the networks, aggregating as big image data visualizations, and serving as arguments within (scholarly) discourse. It will look both at the impact and implementation of these phenomena within academia and at their reflection and instrumentalization in artistic practice, including recent tendencies to rematerialize data and discourse in sculptures and installations.