Showing posts from November, 2006

Text mining for the humanities?

What could we need to know about interpreting and understanding the meaning of a work of literature that could be facilitated by digital text mining? I went to part of a dissertation proposal defense today (Bei's). Someone on her committee pointed out that literary scholars use digital tools for pre-critical work, finding the books they wish to criticize. Humanities scholars would only benefit if these text mining strategies used for classification had some way of giving them access to surprising or new meanings. But what if these tools were used for post-critical work, to see if a book's or a group of books' critical reception had some basis in the frequency of word occurrences in the text? So say, for instance, librarians in the late 19th century deemed some books "realistic" and "true to life" and other books "improbable" or "false." Would there be anything in a text analysis to back up this kind of distinction? Particularly

the unbearable smugness of Elsie Dinsmore

Just finished reading Countess Kate by Charlotte Yonge, which is a complex portrayal of an orphaned girl who has been kicked around from place to place. She builds her entire sense of self on finding out that she is a countess, because she has so little else to go on in the home of overbearing Aunt Barbara who constantly tells her she's not good enough. Then I start reading Elise Dinsmore by Martha Finley... we're still post-Civil War here, hence Elise is also an orphan deposited with a family who does not love her. But while Charlotte is confused, uncertain, and awkward thanks to having been kicked from family to family, Elsie is beautiful, self-righteous, constantly in an attractive state of near-weeping, and refers incessantly to the Bible. Why is she like this? How does her character come to be? We don't know, and it's hard to care when Elsie does nothing but demonstrate over and over how much better a person she is than anyone else. She's a child who need

Coffin and the True Books

--Boys of '76 by Charles Coffin (earliest UIUC catalog date is 1876, although it was clearly reprinted multiple times) Rip-roaring start, right in the middle of action, getting ready to send a son off to war. And then an intervening letter gives details, and the whole things bogs way down by p. 5. I wonder if inclusion of the letter was meant to make it seem real, the way contemporary nonfiction writers for children include photographs? I need to read What Darwin Saw, if I'm able to find it. Finding older nonfiction may prove difficult, but it's what I need to do. Just found Chemical History of a Candle on Project Gutenberg... goodie.

Oliver Optic, Charlotte Yonge

--Outward Bound, or Young America Afloat Just finished reading this in electronic form--thanks to Project Gutenberg for making the text available for free. The UIUC catalog says it was first published in 1867. This old book is the first one I've read entirely on screen, 300+ pages. I found that by narrowing the browser window my eyes could begin to actually move as fast as they do over print pages, and I was, after many chapters, able to get "lost in the book" on this Thanksgiving day. It was a pleasure to tap the space bar rather that turn pages. I picked it out because of the title, thinking that it may lead me to greater understanding of the youth nature program by the same name. I'm sure this was the inspiration for those programs, since the gist of the story is that a principal decides to have a school on a ship, relying on the necessities of maritime life to provide needed discipline for unruly but rich boys. I do see why 19th century librarians found it ob

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and other memoirs

Went to the library to find memoirs of women with unusual families or academic careers. I browsed, rather than asking for help. I found two important books: --Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman This memoir of growing up in a Jewish hippie family in NYC is strikingly honest about a kid's eye view of everything from concrete playgrounds to racial inequities and adolescent rock star adoration. The first half is brilliant, and she should write children's books. She write the way children are, seeing one another as people. Just like Iona Opie describe in The People on the Playground, kids refer to one another as people... not little people, not kids.... they do not see themselves as incomplete but as whole, with their own whole dramas. Gilman gets this. I'd read anything she writes. I laughed out loud enough times while reading the first few chapters that I decided not to take the book with me on the bus or to cafes. --