There has been quite a bit of conversation of late about textual analysis and topic modeling in literary studies (see here, here, here, and here for a handful of examples). The availability of tools like Voyant and Mallet have made it possible for digital humanists to begin work in textual analysis and topic modeling quickly and with little/no institutional support. These tools also allow us to give a fresh dh twist to traditional ways of practicing literary studies. Natalie Houston put this nicely in her talk at MLA last year:
Our method, quite simply, as literary scholars, is to pay attention to patterns. Digital tools offer us computational power for conducting analysis far beyond our human limitations. Such tools can offer us new ways of understanding the material places of Victorian poetry through analyzing patterns in the metadata, page images, and linguistic layers of the digitized text.
In light of all this, I’d like to propose a session in which we discuss the value of textual analysis and topic modeling for digital literary studies. The session could go in a number of different directions, including:
- an exploration of a specific tool like Voyant,
- a conversation about use-cases and current projects,
- a more meta conversation about how and why we might use these tools, and the questions they invite and/or foreclose. I’m particularly interested in talking about the recent meta-analytical work Andrew Goldstone and Ted Underwood have done with PMLA and the new avenues it might open up for understanding the work we participate in, the culture of a particular journal, and the shape of a given field: What can topic models of PMLA teach us about the history of literary scholarship?