“Digital Humanities Open House” Invites Collaboration Between Literature and Quantitative Methodology

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Duke English and the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (IID) held a “Digital Humanities Open House,” featuring presentations by three English faculty members and two undergraduate students. Astrid Giugni, Lecturing Fellow in English, and two of her students presented two projects supported by the Data+ Program Associate Professor of English Aarthi Vadde presented her Fictionality and Fandom After the Social Web project. Julianne Werlin, Assistant Professor of English, focused her presentation on her English Authors, 1500-1700 project.

Photo of Astrid Giugni, Aimi Wen and Leona Lu presenting

Professor Giugni presented two projects she has been developing with Jessica Hines, Assistant Professor of English, Birmingham-Southern College, (Ph.D., Duke English), and two undergraduate students, Leona Lu, ‘23 and Aimi Wen, ’24, on parallel and pedagogical applications of works.  Both projects utilize texts found in Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP). EEBO-TCP is a prime example of what the digital age has brought to the humanities.  It allows one to research large amounts of data while focusing on specific key elements or topics.  The first project she presented, Ethical Consumption before Capitalism began as a Data + project in 2020 and is ongoing through both Data+ and Bass Connections, both programs supported by IID.  This project brings together close readings of critical economic and medical text found in the Rubenstein Rare Book Library and the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a large-scale analysis of the digital texts made available by EEBO-TCP.  The second project she presented,  Constructing Utopias in Restoration London is a collaboration between Data+ and the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at Duke University.  Constructing Utopias in Restoration London is a summer 2021 Data+ project focused on a subset of EEBO-TCP texts to analyze the debates over the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire of 1666. 

Professor Vadde, with Professor Richard Jean So, Associate Professor of English & Cultural Analytics, McGill University, are working on a computational study of fan fiction from the website AO3: Archive of Our OwnFictionality and Fandom After the Social Web is a data-driven study of the social dynamics of online fandoms to understand the narrative form of fanfiction and user commentary around it.

“We are using statistical methods to understand storytelling at a scale impossible to achieve from close reading individual work or individual writers alone.” – Professor Aathi Vadde

Digital humanities have allowed Professor Vadde and Professor Jean So to analyze fan fiction and focus on specific elements such as how an audience's attention can be drawn to background elements of a work rather than to those elements that are customarily the focus of traditional formats.

Photo from Digital Humanities Open House

Professor Werlin gave a presentation on her English Authors, 1500-1700 project.  With this project, Werlin takes a comprehensive view of the demography of Renaissance authorship. 

"Drawing on a database of around 600 writers, I trace trends in life expectancy, birthplace, class, and education, among other characteristics, to create a new account of who exactly English authors were, how the group's composition changed over time, and why it matters for literary history." – Professor Julianne Werlin.

The Open House concluded with a general discussion about what is possible with digital humanities, the limitless possibilities digital humanities open for the future, and how English, other humanities disciplines, and IID can collaborate to create new opportunities. Each presenter commented on how difficult their research would be if it were not for digital resources and computation now available.

The Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (IID) collaborates with disciplines to explore the knowledge gained from data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Robert Calderbank, head of IID, reminded participants that collaboration helps us integrate what is learned and allows us to then incorporate it into something new.  He shared IID’s desire to have Data+ and Bass Connections projects develop into classes inside departments like English, which allows students to extend the knowledge gained during these projects into investments that generate areas of digital humanities studies. Calderbank shared the analogy that digital humanities can be the cutting edge for all parties because it allows humanities disciplines to bring questions to data science which has the resources to help collect and analyze the data needed to draw a scholarly conclusion.  Collaborations created through digital humanities enhance traditional scholarly research, interfuse classroom education with archival data-analytics experience and allow IID to offer their resources to stimulate the mind to explore new horizons that one might never have imagined before.

The idea for a Digital Humanities Open House arose during a meeting between Rob Mitchell, Duke English Chair, Robert Calderbank, Head of IID, Jonathan Mattingly, former Mathematics Chair, and Robert Bryant, Mathematics Chair. Over the summer they discussed ways to encourage the increasing interest among faculty and students for studying literature through quantitative methods while also making people aware of how IID can be of assistance. English professors Astrid Giugni and Charlotte Sussman have pursued this interest and aided undergraduate and graduate students through Data + projects, a full-time summer research opportunity available to Duke students interested in exploring the usage of digital resources within the humanities. 

For more information on these research opportunities: Duke University Data+ Program and the Humanities.