Digital Humanities
@ Pratt

Inquiries into culture, meaning, and human value meet emerging technologies and cutting-edge skills at Pratt Institute's School of Information

Event Review: What Can You Do with a Digitized Book? DH Methods for Analyzing Printed Materials with Anne Donlon at Pratt Institute

Event Summary: On December 4th, Anne Donlon gave a lecture on current  DH methods for print text analysis at Pratt Institute School of Information.  This lecture gave participants an introduction to ways that large-scale book digitization projects have changed how scholars can access and analyze printed materials. Donlon gave a thorough overview of current digital humanities methods used to analyze books, from hand-encoded TEI to algorithmic topic modeling and sentiment analysis, at the scale of one book to a million books. The lecture also considered ways that these methods can by applied in libraries and other cultural institutions

The CUNY Graduate Center’s Anne Donlon gave a lecture entitled “What Can You Do with a Digitized Book? DH Methods for Analyzing Printed Materials” on December 4th at Pratt’s School of Information. Anne Donlon works as the Community Manager for Humanities Commons, and is a member of the Journal for Interactive Technology & Pedagogy’s editorial collective. Her background includes work analyzing special collections’ digitized and born-digital materials, and metadata. Donlon’s lecture gave participants an introduction to ways that large-scale book digitization projects have changed how scholars can access and analyze printed materials. Donlon gave a thorough overview of current digital humanities methods used to analyze books, from hand-encoded TEI to algorithmic topic modeling and sentiment analysis, at the scale of one book to a million books. The lecture also continually emphasized how these methods can by applied in libraries and other cultural institutions

Donlon began her workshop by asking and answering some central questions to this work: what do we get from digitized books?; how do we use them?. Digitized books allow us to search in new ways, create topic models, mine text for linguistic patterns, compare texts in a corpus, and build online exhibitions and finding tools. She then examined different examples of these uses from within academic spaces, social spaces, and corporate spaces. Donlon offered Alan Liu’s Literary Studies in the Digital Age as an example of academic ways to use digital texts. Literary Studies in the Digital Age is a dynamic digital anthology of core tools and techniques for computational approaches to literary studies. The project’s website explains “since literary studies represents a confluence of fields and subfields, tools and techniques, and since computational approaches come from a great variety of sources, it became clear that any primer would have to be dynamic and capable of incorporating a rich and growing array of methodologies.”[1] The anthology offers features for scholars to comment on each others work. This essentially functions like a peer review and academics revise their work based on comments made through social reading.

Donlon then considered how the questions we ask in literary criticism might change when a text is digitized. Conventional literary criticism analyzes form, rhetoric, social/historic context, narrative in a text but when texts are digitized scholars have the opportunity to ask these questions on larger scale. Literary investigation broadens it’s scope to look for patterns over hundreds of texts at a time.  Still, Donlon presented analog and digital approaches to literary criticism as valuable. She pointed to potential obstacles in text mining and digital analysis: “in order to search for something you need to know what you are looking for but we need to figure out more spontaneous/playful way of exploring this amount of text”.

After introducing these central concepts, issues, and goals of text analysis, Donlon discussed practical approaches and tools for text analysis, mapping and spatial analysis, and methods beyond the text. TEI is one of the most common DH methods used by librarians and archivists. The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is a consortium which “collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form. Its chief deliverable is a set of Guidelines which specify encoding methods for machine-readable texts, chiefly in the humanities, social sciences and linguistics.”[2] Donlon described how TEI allows librarians to create new ways to engage and access their collections link offering digital tools to juxtapose and compare critical editions of books TEI is also useful to scholars and literary critics. It offers librarians a way to mark up an authors corpus for analysis, look at texts side by side. Donlon’s lecture continued with a discussion of tools DH scholars use to analyze text— Voyant, and Natural Text Language Processing. She also discussed established methods in text analysis like Topic Modeling, Sentiment Analysis, Stylometric, and Metadata.

Throughout her lecture, Donlon outlined the importance of applying of these different uses of text analysis in library science citing NYPL Labs and LOC Labs. She continued to emphasize the importance of thinking about using these strategies for engagement to increase engagement and support spontaneity. I found Donlon’s focus on ways to use these methods for engagement and access an exciting shift away from conversations among scholars about how to use these methods for their independent work.  Finally, this lecture did an effective job at pointing to compatibility between the goals of DH scholars and librarians. DH brings methods for bringing texts and ideas out of books to create new entry points for new learnings.  Because they are non-academic thinking/learning spaces, libraries offer DH a space that unlike the academy prioritizes access to people with varying background and comfortability.

 

Notes

[1] “Literary Studies in the Digital Age | An Evolving Anthology.” Accessed December 18, 2017. https://dlsanthology.mla.hcommons.org/.

[2] “Victory for Nonviolence | American Experience | PBS.” Accessed December 17, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/freedom-riders-victory-nonviolence/.