How to Not Read Books with Computers

Announcing the next meeting of the Digital Scholars reading and discussion group on the topic of

How to Not Read Books with Computers: An Introduction to Distant Reading and Text Analysis

Monday, 25 October 2010
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Graduate Instruction Lab, Scholars Commons, Strozier Library (0005A)
(laptops will be provided, or bring your own)

“we know how to read texts, now let’s learn how not to read them. Distant reading: where distance, let me repeat it, is a condition of knowledge” –Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature” (57)

Franco Moretti was apparently not all that interested in computers when he first proposed his radical notion of “distant reading.” Instead, he wanted to change the discipline of comparative literature. In the meantime, digital humanists (and Moretti himself) have realized fascinating possibilities for the kinds of “distant reading” that computation makes possible. This session aims 1) to invite some of the major arguments for and objections to “distant reading,” and 2) to introduce and play with some readily-accessible technologies by which we can practice it ourselves.

We will begin with a recent and accessible piece on distant reading and text analysis in The Chronicle, which includes mention of some scholars recently awarded Google’s inaugural Digital Humanities grants. We will then explore the debates in Critical Inquiry between Moretti and Katie Trumpener that the article mentions. Finally, we will conduct a few “distant readings” ourselves, using some simple web-based tools for text analysis and visualization. Come to learn, discuss, and play.

Parry, Marc. “The Humanities Go Google.” The Chronicle 28 May 2010. Web.

Moretti, Franco. “Style, Inc.: Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740-1850).” Critical Inquiry 36.1 (Autumn 2009): 134-58.

Trumpener, Katie. “Paratext and Genre System: A Response to Franco Moretti.” Critical Inquiry 36.1 (Autumn 2009): 159-71.

Additional resources for anyone looking for just a little bit more:

Moretti, Franco. “Conjectures on World Literature.” New Left Review 1.54 (Jan-Feb 2000). Web.
(Moretti’s early [earliest?] statement about “distant reading”)

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London; New York: Verso, 2005.
(on reserve at Strozier for “Digital Scholars”)

Cohen, Dan. “Searching for the Victorians.” Keynote presented to the Victorians Institute/NINES conference, University of Virginia. 2 October 2010. Web.
(A recent keynote from another scholar with a Google DH grant. Includes neat charts and graphs.)


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