eHumanities group 2015 Visiting Fellow

Visiting the eHumanities group in the Fall of 2015 was a great privilege. The intellectual community visible within and among the individual eHumanities Projects impressed me no end. While many centers for interdisciplinary research in the humanities aspire to bring together scholars and students working on a range of projects and willing to explore a diverse set of methods—quantitative as well as qualitative—few institutions manage to pull it off. For this reason it was a surprise and delight to encounter students and scholars, many with starkly different intellectual formations, collaborating on several ambitious research projects in the humanities and allied social sciences.

One highlight of my visit was the Writing Workshop for the Computational Humanities projects. The workshop took place in early December and it gave students who were finishing their PhD theses an opportunity to give and receive feedback on their work in progress. The workshop made tangible the heterogeneity and sophistication of projects which find their home in the eHumanities group. The methodological diversity visible in the participants’ projects was particularly impressive: careful ethnographic research was discussed alongside analyses featuring modern natural language processing.

The visit also gave me the chance to present my current research project which is focused on the opportunities library digitization presents literary historians and historians of publishing. The presentation, “Reassembling the Novel, 1789–1914” focused on possible avenues for research in a world—a world not too difficult to imagine— where all surviving copies of the 25,000 English novels published in the 19th century are readily available to interested students and scholars. For a variety of reasons, research making use of these surviving novels has been neither theoretically fashionable nor practical. The practical issues are obvious. With print runs often in the very low thousands, many of these novels survive in small numbers in libraries in North America and Europe and until quite recently accessing even a small percentage of them systematically would have been prohibitively expensive. My presentation discussed the prospect of reassembling the historical particulars necessary for thinking about or modeling these 25,000 titles as the production of networks of cooperation among actors—human and non-human—whose actions are jointly necessary to the final products taking the form they eventually do.