About this Project

This project responds to the changing face of literary and textual scholarship in the digital age. The project centers on the concepts and practices forming around new scalable reading methods, many of which are imported from the sciences – everything from data mining and visualization to machine learning and network analysis. Bringing together a number of existing digital research initiatives and collaborations at the University of Chicago, the project aspires to foster a lab-like environment where scholars who work across different textual traditions and disciplines will help formulate a unique type of data-driven humanistic research called “Textual Optics.” This research will comprise a set of tools and interpretive methods that allow scholars to read textual archives through multiple lenses and scales of analysis, from single words up to millions of volumes. In particular, the project will consider how readers might move between close and distant readings of texts. Over the course of the project, participants will produce a set of technical interfaces and models for digital literary study that expand access to this kind of work for humanities scholars and facilitate a critical awareness of where these methods stand in relation to other analytic frameworks. Textual Optics is ultimately a call for a new approach to textual studies and a way to materialize it through sustained interdisciplinary collaboration.

Image: "Giant" compound microscope of Descartes, courtesy Wellcome Images


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