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A Distant Reading of Property


Event Summary

Franco Moretti's call for a "Distant Reading" of Literature has only recently been applied to History with the idea of detecting continuities and discontinuities, but few test-cases exist that propose new interventions to major historiographies on the basis of electronic reading. Can the tools of text-mining be used to follow the history of property, confiscation, eviction around British empire? In this lecture, Jo Guldi showed the results of using topic modeling, divergence measures, collocation analysis and semantic analysis to understand the changing valences of property. Countering constitutionalist A. V. Dicey, Guldi used this "distant" support to argue that colonial resistance, in rejecting the terms of ownership codified between Locke and Malthus, effectively remade the language and understandings by which parliament debated property law.

This event was sponsored by the Textual Optics project at the Neubauer Collegium.