Introducing .txtLab @ McGill

.txtLAB is a digital humanities laboratory at McGill University directed by Andrew Piper. We explore the use of computational and quantitative approaches towards understanding literary and cultural phemonena in both the past and present. Our aim is to engage in critical and creative uses of the tools of network science, machine learning, or image processing to think about language, literature, and culture at both the large and small scale.

Our projects include:

  • Global Currents: Cultures of Literary Networks, 1050-1900. This project is funded by the Digging into Data Challenge Round 3. In it, we are looking at how visual features of pages can help us understand different cultural communities and networks of intellectual exchange across different world cultures (the European Enlightenment, Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy, Ming-Qing Women Writers, and the Anglo-Saxon Middle Ages). Our aim is to bring big data to the non-western, early- and pre-print texts that have so far largely been left out of data-driven approaches.
  • The Werther Effect. This is a long-term study of the impact of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther on eighteenth-century writing. Employing a variety of models of transtextuality, it asks how a best-seller circulates beyond the works explicitly indebted to it.
  • The Sociability of Detection. Through a study of the social communities of detective fiction, we’re interested in studying how  imagined communities arrive at a shared understanding of truth or fact. This work is part of a broader endeavour to study character networks as a means for understanding genre and narrative form.
  • Conversional Reading. This project looks at the legacy of Augustinian conversion during the modern period, whether on novels or autobiographies since the eighteenth century. How do different genres produce different kinds of conversional reading experiences and can we measure the degrees of conversionality within texts?
  • The Body Poetic: In this project, we are interested in exploring whether there are  unique structural features to the poetic “corpus” that characterize poetic writing. What can these structural features of a poet’s body of work tell us about the nature of poetic creativity?

And many more! The list of things we’re working on is a long one (sentiment about the arts, the history of punctuation, feelings in the novel, footnote detection, networks of connotation) and is constantly evolving. Come find out more if you’re interested or follow us on Twitter @_akpiper.