Moretti's Recency Bias is Showing (or, DH is not the only interpretive mode we have)

Moretti's problems are evident by the time he gets to section 4. He is explaining network mapping in the context of Shakespeare (Was this a thing? Do a lot of DH'ers use Shakespeare as some kind of control by which to prove their DH tools?), and highlights a pretty serious concern -- how do you weigh interactions between characters? How do you highlight that weight? What about one way communication? I would assume that you could just use arrows (one-way arrow means a one-way conversation, bold/different colored arrows show different levels of communication, depending on an included table/chart), but apparently that's not a thing. So alright, that's a problem that should be solved. I can see that, 100%.

But then section 2 comes along and Moretti seems to lose the plot. It starts off well enough in the beginning sentences, when he says that using a network map like this can reduce the play into something that is far less than its consituent components. Basically, we shouldn't forget the context in which all of these character interactions take place in. Alright. I'm on board.

But then, he says "a model allows you to see the underlying structures of a complex object. It's like an X-ray: suddenly, you see the region of death of Figure 5, which is otherwise hidden by the very richness of the play" (4). What? Is he saying that it's particularly hard to note the fact that everyone in Hamlet's court is killed at the end of the play? That was noted back in my junior Shakespeare class in 2010. I wrote it off as miswording, perhaps a bit of overzealousness even, but he continues. He says on page 5 that "What is done is never undone; the plot as a system of regions; the hierarchy of centrality that exists among characters; finally - and its the most important thing of all, but also the most difficult - one can intervene on a model; make experiments. Take the protagonist again. For literary critics, this Figure is important because it's a very meaning-ful part of the text; there is always a lot to be said about it; we would never think of discussing Hamlet - without Hamlet. But this is exactly what network theory tempts us to do: take the Hamlet-network, remove Hamlet, to see what happens: And what happens is that the network splits almost in half."

Forgiving the awful writing, this reads a lot like "The only way people can even think of these types of problems, let alone actually see how Hamlet survives without Hamlet as a character at its center, is if they are using network mapping." That is...incorrect at best. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did this rather humorously (but also effectively in a literary context) back in 1966. Or is he, perhaps, saying that these types of questions are network theory questions? I am honestly confused, and his writing does not help matters. This reads a lot like "Only Digital Humanities can solve these problems," when it should say "Digital Humanities can help us visualize these problems." I am willing to admit that I have simply misread him, that I'm missing a fundamental humility or angle of his, but even in the final section he says "So, from its very first section, the essay drifted from quanitification to the qualitative analysis of plot: the advantage of thinking in terms of space rather than time; its segmentation into regions, instead of episodes; the new, non-anthropomorphic idea of the protagonist; or, even, the "undoing" of narrative structures occasioned by the removal of specific vertices in the network" (11). This is why I'm so frustrated. This angle of literary investigation isn't new!

He does take a moment to address my issue with his position. Apparently, he has been asked often "Did I really need [network theory] to speak about Horatio and the State?" to which his answer is "No, I did not need network theory; but I probably needed networks. I had been thinking about Horatio for some time -- but I had never "seen" his position with Hamlet's field of forces until I looked at the network of the play....What I took for network theory were less concepts than visualization: the possibility of extracting characters and interactions from a dramatic structure, and turning them into a set of signs that I could see at a glance, in a two-dimensional space" (11). His answer to the problem is more an excuse for his bias -- he couldn't even think of these questions before he utilized network theory/mapping, so network theory/mapping is presented as the only way to see these questions are even there. People have been talking about character relationships -- and the centrality of protagonists -- for long before Moretti happened upon using network mapping on Hamlet. He should reflect that in his writing, or at least acknowledge that this is not the only way for people to think of the relationships between characters.


I have been struggling to see how people could be so against DH and its uses. After having read this paper, I'm beginning to understand.

Ramsay and Patterning

I've long entered a debate with close family members over objective/concrete evidence and its often assumed absence in literary criticism. But I was struck by Ramsay's argument, in particular by his definition of data mining. According to Ramsay, who borrows a definition from Witten, "data mining is the extraction of implicit, previously unknown, and potentially useful information from data." This data, processed through algorithms, destills to "regularities" and "patterns" (185). It continues, "Many patterns will be banal and uninteresting. Others will be spurious, contingent on accidental coinicidences in the particular dataset used. And real data is imperfect: some parts are garbled, some missing. Anything that is discovered will be inexact." And this inexactness made me think of Derrida's Archive Fever, notably how the data in an archive is also far from perfect, subject to irregularity, and will never be approached from a neutral, purely rational, or objective standpoint. Interpretation will always be encoded in the human, in the moment, from our place of cultural understanding. It will never occur in a vacuum, always informed by data and previous patterns or discoveries.

Likewise, Ramsay comments on this lack of neutrality as several of my classmates have already discussed. Ramsay states that software cannot even be neutral as "there is no level at which assumption disappears" and instead, argues that this "lack of neutrality" should be "assert[ed]" with "candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of intrepretation can occur" (182). If I see Derrida as looking to encode the cultural archive, I see Ramsay on a smaller scale, attempting to show how Derrida's truisms (or at least what I see as truth out of Archive Fever) also function on a smaller scale in data extraction. Both comment on the subjective human-process of patterning and privileging information. 

Serendipity in the Digital Age

I have admitted previously to being somewhat of a skeptic (or, at the very least, a doubter) on the topic of “The Digital”, since I am often finding myself rather alarmed by the rapid progression of technology within what would seem just the past 20 years or so, and regarding which I usually wonder if the benefits of convenience necessarily outweigh the potential negative effects that we perhaps do not even fully understand yet.  I am thus probably a bit of a—gasp—traditionalist, in this respect.  So on some level, the process Stephen Ramsay describes in “In Praise of Pattern” showcases just what I had feared: that much of the purpose of such Digital Humanities projects just might be for the sake of mere curiosity.  What, I was poised to ask, might be the cost of such curiosity for its own sake? (I will still ask this, but maybe with less apparent certainty/disdain, as if I already know the answer, because I honestly don’t.) (I do know, too, that I am oversimplyfying the issue and there are certainly reasons besides curiosity alone, and that curiosity may, in fact, be a blessed thing at times.) After all, Ramsay notes himself that stage directions for Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously sparse, and we also have reason to believe that sets often did not change from scene to scene, instead leaving any mention of a change of scene to the imaginations of the play’s viewers.  He thus explores the fact that in order to explore the topic he was interested in a certain level of guesswork was necessary: And so, faced with this computationally intractable buffet of confusion, I did what any good humanist scholar would do: I guessed” (182).  But for what ultimate purpose is it truly to work at “guessing” in such wise? 

These were my thoughts upon initially encountering Ramsay’s article.  What I didn’t expect, however, was to be struck by the genuine earnestness of his argument.  I found it particularly refreshing what he writes about neutrality, for instance: not that we should strive eternally for neutrality in our work—which I sometimes feel is desired but inevitably impossible—but instead that we should acknowledge openly the inherently subjective nature of something created by another individual person (in this case, software) that even so does not discount the value of one’s work: “This does not imply that the software should be neutral, as many tools and web sites in digital humanities try to be. It cannot be neutral in this regard, since there is no level at which assumption disappears. It must, rather, assert its utter lack of neutrality with candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of interpretation can occur” (182).  Additionally, I was very charmed by the sense of discovery Ramsay describes and claims to experience while occupied in The Search (he even calls these moments of unearthing something new “epiphanies”—as strong a description as I ever heard!), and the very human—even endearing—manner in which he describes first feeling rather sheepish about discussing his curiosity with those outside the field of English, before ultimately finding greater worth in his own internal yearning for discovery.  The candor with which Ramsay discusses the particular scholar’s joy in the serendipitous encounter was, I found, very compelling in this piece, and, from my perspective, quite a nice argument for the worth of such research methods.

Ramsay, Assumptions, and Neutrality

I rather enjoyed the Stephen Ramsay reading and was particularly struck by his perspective on the notion that DH tools and algorithms cannot be objective or neutral, nor should they be. "It cannot be neutral...since there is no level at which assumption disappears. It must, rather, assert its utter lack of neutrality with candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of interpretation can occur" (182). This ties into the topic of selection bias and preservation we were talking about with the archive, but comes up repeatedly in Ramsay's essay as well. He stresses early on that the point of DH is not to find objective answers to interpretive problems, which is an easy leap to make when including algorithms and math into the humanities. Rather, data visualization is another way to present and sort through data that already exists, allowing for new avenues of interpretation of patterns that would be harder to notice otherwise.

It feels good to see a scholar outright acknowledge and interrogate the notion of neutrality in algorithms. As this is all in favor of interpretation and analysis, the tools being used and/or created are being crafted for that specific purpose, and will thus be 'tainted' by our academic assumptions from the outset. People have a tendency to assume algorithms and math are impartial and immune to bias, and it is oddly validating to see Ramsay outright saying that is silly and everything is biased by our assumptions in some way.


I'll make this short and sweet. It's yet another Monday and, yes, another blog post in which I will mention that I am, at the moment, very tired and very much fighting the urge to float cartoonlike towards my bed. It is a hard-fought battle, one that I am certain to lose - the question is only when. 

I very much enjoyed the Stephen Ramsay article, specifically when he touches on serendipity (that friend everyone in academia likes to pretend they don't hang out with) and the relationship between the positivism of "real" scientific pursuits and the necessarily interprative quality of literary studies (a relationship that I think is presented rather problematically in the Jockers reading). I feel often that, when prompted or wanting to bolster and defend the sociocultural significance of literature studies, the spectre of STEM lingers in the background and, consequently, any defense of literature is figured necessarily in the comparison between the humanities and the sciences. Thus, Ramsay's ackowledgment of a difference but potential symbiosis between these studies provided a nice moment of optimism. 

I've got some more thoughts but I'll save those for class tomorrow. The battle is over. Therefore, time for sleep. 

Patterns and Evidence

(Full disclosure, the download link for the Ramsay reading was not working, so I went online and found a copy of his article "In Praise of Pattern.")

I read the Ramsay first, and it read as a great example of the type of methodological write-up that I would want to turn into Dr. Drouin for our final semester projects. It was easy to read, he had quite a few lit-nerd jokes in there, and I walked away understanding his central premise. That is, we can use digital humanities to find larger strokes in the source texts (in Ramsay's case, the use of scenes in Shakespeare's plays and how it differed over genres), but those larger strokes don't necessarily scientifically prove anything out of hand. So what if comedies, tragedies, romances, and history plays have a different average of different scene locations? To say that the scene variance means something thematically is not, then, a scientific argument. It is a literary/humanistic interpretation of the fact that comedies, tragedies, etc. have a differing amount of locations. Ramsay is, essentially, making sure that we understand what the tools digital humanities scholars give us. They give us hard, scientific data, yes. But they do not give us the key to some unimpeachable literary position. Our theses, our journal articles, those are still the same interpretative statements that we have been making since the dawn of the academy.

The Jockers seems to easily line up with this. Jockers spends time stating that digital humanities tools are, essentially, strip-mining texts for broad tendencies. Digital humanities is, essentially, best used for gathering evidence on a large scale, and less useful for taking on the intricacies of a single novel. It makes sense on a certain level -- why use text miners on a 50-page short story when you could be using them on an author's (or authors') body of text? Again, what you find doesn't necessarily prove anything out of hand. But you can use them as keystones to search out material in the text, or alongside material in the text, to formulate your opinion and lend it the weight of scientific evaluation.

The biggest thing I take away from these readings is that I want my project for the semester to focus on collating/interpreting a large collection of data. My focus on late Victorian/early Modern texts will make that an easy ask when Project Gutenberg .txt files exist. They are, also, an important reminder that a English scholar in digital humanities cannot forget their roots in literary criticism. Graphs don't mean anything without the interpretation that we do everyday, and the data we uncover does not limit our ideas. As Ramsay says, "We are so careful with our software and with our mathemat-ics—so eager to stay within the tightly circumscribed bounds of what the data “allows”—that we are sometimes afraid (or we forget) that all of this is meant to lead us to that area of inquiry where such caution and such tentativeness has no place."

Discussing Derrida and Decay

Before this week I hadn't read much Derrida, and I surprisingly found our section of Archive Fever this week quite interesting (I also hope this was the correct reading, since I wasn't sure about page numbers!). The aspect of Derrida's that I found most compelling is his discussion of why we archive the way that we do; from whence does this urge to catalog pour fourth?  What drives our seemingly inherent completionism?  In Archive Fever, Derrida asserts that archiving is an attempt to work against the impending and ever-present threat of loss.

Although this thought has permeated much of our discussion this class, I was quite struck by it here.  Of late I've been considering the processes of loss and mourning, and wondering about how these might filter into all of a life that ever in a process of decay.  Fascinatingly, Derrida suggests that one of the ways we might combat this knowledge of decay and impermanence is through the archive, for indeed:

“There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression. Above all, and this is the most serious, beyond or within this simple limit called finiteness or finitude, there is no archive fever without the thread of this death drive, this aggression and destruction drive” (19).

As we have been working through various journals and other archives lately, and further discussung just how fluid, subjective, and difficult the archival process is, I've personally been hit with a few doubts as to the possibility of ever "properly" documenting or archiving anything.  What is the purpose, after all, if one cannot be sure that their attempt at presevration is ever good enough?  But when considering the possibility that we archive to work against the decay of an inherently physical, this process begins to take on new significance for me, and I almost begin to feel a greater respect for the yearning expressed in the attempt than for the result itself.

Two Masses and Voyant tool

I tried to make a comparison between two issues of Mases. One is issue of June, 1914, and the other one is issue of June, 1915. One of the most salient characteristics in frequency of words was the use of the word 'women' and 'men'. The frequent words in Masses of 1914 showed both 'men' and 'women' in a similar ratio, but in case of 1915 issue, I could only find the word men occurred frequently. I want to ask about the reason for this difference of frequency in words of men and women, because this would implicate the relationship between class and women. In addition, in the issue of 1914, I could find some words related to the nationality such as Mexico, and American, but in the issue of 1915, I could not find such words. It seems important theme to me, because this can be an evidence of the fact that the magazine also tries to encompass different social movements in different countries. Both of two issues seem to focus on the word ‘masses’ and ‘new’. From this idea, I could find the fact that the magazines seem to focus on the movement of masses and making a new change in the society and I want to study more about this.

Variety and Similarity

Is one purpose of the archive is simply to preserve the variety of any given age?

This question about variety led me to consider what similarities might exist between journals that would seem to be in opposition to one another, for instance, a self-proclaimed "conservative" journal like The Owl and a undeniably political journal such as The Egoist. Thus, I took three issues from each journal and, after putting them into Voyant Tools, subsequently took a look at the terms they have in common, featured below:


I'm going to come back to this post and add some more. But, for right now, I'm appreciating the movement that Voyant Tools allows for this issue of The Masses. I've been reading some queer theory for Dr. McLaughlin's class, and one thing that has really spoken to me is the idea of stasis as a tool of potential oppression used by political hegemonies. Perhaps, through reanimation (digitization, playing with words, etc.), there is a reimbuing of political potential.

Lab 2/12

I was most curious about the potential political ramifications and biases that an archive may be subject to. So rather than if there are any biases, I decided for this excercise, to just ask where any biases manifest, just due to the nature of modernism.

For this lab, I put the June 1914 issues of Blast, The Crisis, and The Masses into a corpus and pumped the whole thing into Voyant Tools. By doing this, I hoped to examine the points of friction between the issues, and potentially examine potential political biases in modernist journal archival.

For starters, the word "like" appears with a higher frequency in Blast than the other journals, and the word links map has it connected to the term "God," indicating a tendency to compare people to higher beings, which furhter indicates a sense of superiority coming from the Vortecists. Meanwhile, terms such as "negro" and "colored" almost exclusively are relegated to The Crisis, highlighting the Anglo centric perspective of Blast and The Masses.

Trying to Explain Why Archives Make The Choices They Do

With the general question of if an archive must explain themselves and the choices they make, the largest objection I could think of would be time. Digitizing and/or cataloging items already takes quite a bit of time. Add in having to explain why you made the choice you did, and you're now spending even more time. And what explanation is long enough? Or too short?


I think a potential solution to this problem is also a potential side step. By linking together texts/objects with metadata tags, you are showing a general theme through specific items that can span the entire archive (as well as helping with search and user access). Perhaps you do not have to excuse your choice as much as you have to prove that said choice has a place in the archive. Maybe that's enough.

That alone is a big ask, as it can be rather subjective as to what terms to use as a metadata tag for which journal. I have decided to explore using the text itself, and using major terms found in the text itself as potential metadata tags. That can take a bit of time, so you to automate it.

To illustrate this, I have used Voyant Tools to automatically read the PDF copies of Blast issue 1, Camera Work number 5, and The Dome, vol. 1 no. 5. By doing so I was able to gather a word map which I have provided below:

The "TermsBerry" that Voyant provides is also useful in this regard, but Voyant does not like making an image of it that I can link here, apparently.

As you can see, there are plenty of words that we can look at to see about using as metadata tags. However, there are also spelling errors, and some more useless words like "good" or "new." We discussed methods in class that we can use to clean up XML files, and I feel as if that is a good way to avoid the spelling errors. This may work rather well if I were to expand the scope even further, and include say all of the MJP's offerings. Then we can get search tags that appear in (at least) a majority of the magazines, and show a clear link between the offerings. 

3 Journals

So for this post, I went and had a look at some issues of The Crisis and The Masses, as well as the two issues of Blast (which is kind of cheating but they have been on my mind recently). For The Crisis, I looked at the first and last issues, in addition to vol 9 issue 1, to see the amounts of change in policy and stance on issues across the length of the war. I did the same with The Masses, looking at the first and last issues, and then Vol. 6 No. 6.

One of the most essential aspects to each of these periodicals is the political aspects running through them. The Crisis focusing on black civil rights and uplift, both before, during, and after the war, The Masses with its socialist leanings, and Blast's fairly obvious facistic leanings. All of these varying political perspectives coexist within the archive of the Modernist Journals Project, which I find fascinating. The description of The Masses acknowledges it's "radical politics," and does The Crisis, but the description for Blast doen not outright mention the political ideals the journal presents. Do we, as archivists, have a responsibility to contextualize the material we choose to preserve, especially when some of the materials push violent and potentially dangerous ideologies (I am aware that some people would leverage the same political questions towards The Masses that I am at Blast)? Because the discussion of archival and preservations can center around similar discussions of ethical consumption that we were having at the end of last week, with regards to the #MeToo era. Is it even up to the archivists to decide if anything is too "problematic" to preserve?

Three magazines


The magazine Rhythm shows some poems which contain various literary works that shows diverse imageries, sounds and twist of traditional convention. For example, the poem ‘the sea child’ describes sea as a child who goes back toward her mother earth by describing various imageries. She is described as ‘fashioned her body of coral and foam, combed a wave in her hair’s warm smother, and drove her away from home.’’ From this scene, we can find that natural object of sea is described as a woman who has fashioned with her with various objects and this makes us to imagine the movement of sea like a person who actually go between the earth and the sea. This makes us imagine the scenery of sea which ceaselessly move back and forth. A story, ‘the holy man’ disrupts the tradition of convention of religion. The is an old man who knows anything about God, but when Bishop looks him he thinks that he is really like Jesus, because he always tries to help others. Even Bishop sees the old man walks on the water to visit him. From this story, we can find that the story distorts the traditional authority of bible. A poem ‘smiles’ uses imageries, but in this case, it also distorts the tradition of using imagery of white and black. The speaker says that a black girl ‘as black as winter’s night’, but when she smiles, “there came a flood of light; it was the Milky Way”. From this speaker finds bright thing from the black girl. On the other hand, a maiden now fair as a summer’s day is described as black when she smiles by comparing her smile to the milky way of black night. Whether the woman is black or white, the speaker describes them as Milky Way, but in a different way. This seems to contrast traditional convention of division between black and white.  There are also many abstract images and this experimental way of depicting the images seems interesting because this could be only found through Modernist digital archive.


Seven arts

In this journal, we can find various issues in politics around the world and USA, and its relation of literature. ‘The Thimble’ written by D. H. Lawrence shows a story of a couple who have trouble of making their lives. When the woman finds out treasure-trove, a thimble accidentally, she feels terrified, and she even imagines that she was laying under the ground. She says that she feels like helpless baby in her situation, but the man says that there is a hope of becoming growth. This story seems to suggest after war mentality in people, and their possibility of resurrection. This idea can be found in the lines saying. “Are we dead now?”, “Yes we are”, “Then we must be born again” John Dewey’s ‘In a time of national hesitation’ explains the situation of USA confronting world war, and suggests the righteous way for the nation to do their work. He explains that the nation is in a paused in making decision, because they lack national mind. He explains that their nation should fight for defending democracy for other nations. He also says that as their nation is a new body and a new sprit in the world, they should finish their hesitation.


As a socialist journal, this journal seems to focus more on lives of people who are in a trouble, and instead of adopting the aesthetics of modernist, just sticks to the idea of realism. In a journal of June 1915, we can find an image of a man and woman. The man is sitting on the floor, putting one leg made of prosthetic leg and he is begging for something to people. Besides him, we can find a woman who is dressed well, and putting one of her leg with shoes which seems luxurious. Below the picture, there is a line saying ‘putting the best foot forward.’ By contrasting two images of man and woman who have different foot, the image seems to depict the problem of the poor and the rich, and there is no artistic experiment in the painting, so we can find that the image tries to depict the problem of society, instead of just sticking to the artistic experiment. In an article, “knowledge and revolution”, we can also find that the article tries to explain the problem of human value in the prison by depicting how prisoners are not treated well. Such description of the problem of prisoners seem to follow the style of reportage which depicts situation with realistic perspective.  

3 Journals and 3 Entries Per

Alright, so I'm getting my wisdom teeth removed on Thursday. Let's celebrate by looking at a few issues of Rhythm, Camera Work, and The Dome. Seeing as how they make extensive use of images, I want to focus on those for the most part.


Rhythym only had 14 issues published, so I looked at issues 1, 7, and 14, in an effort to gain a general understanding of Rhythm's life as a publication. Volume 1, Number 1 is very worried about detail and how it is used. In particular to the drawings, this issue is very concerned about being able to give adequate detail to the whole image. "Study" by Othon Friesz is our first full page image, and you can see that the character's worker-qualities (its strength, muscle mass, rounded shoulders, broad feet and hands) are emphasized over its face. In fact, it looks as though the figure could be wearing a mask, which highlights the replaceability of the worker-classes. The next image we have is by Picasso, in which we get two women whose faces are very detailed, but their clothing is barely outlined. Issue 7 seems to be following the same general focus, going as far as Picasso's piece focusing only on a wounded soldier's hands and his bandaged head. The rest of his body is a thin, ragged outline. Issue 14 is no different, though there are quite a bit more nude drawings. The nudity is not as pronounced as the woman's face, so while the women are are an edenic landscape, the focus is on their beauty and not their body.


In Camera Work, I went for the same broad sampling. They are largely worried with establishing photography as an artform in itself, and as such give quite a bit of space to people calling it such. The pictures they include are rather haunting by today's standards (the black and white images help with that), but I'd like to have seen more. For a journal that is called Camera Work, there is decidedly little of it on display. The question here is if the journal does enough to establish photography as an art form.


In The Dome, I think the biggest difference is that they don't offer any "apology" or "introduction" section to their journal. It is entirely focused on the art, and offers no defense because there isn't anything to defend. The question is, then, if that is enough. Can you simply present a journal of nothing but your era's art and stand aside, because your job's done now? Is any period's art good enough to do that? Or is The Dome being a little presumptuous?


I think a larger question these journals can drag to the surface about archives is if an archive has to defend or describe their rationale for allowing items into their collection. The Dome certainly does not think an explanation is necessary, but Camera Work and Rhythm and many other journals that I've interacted with do. Do archives have to answer to anyone? Archives are doing all of the work in collating and protecting these pieces, so why do they have to explain why they chose one thing over another?