Summer's Yield Projects from the Summer Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities

Liz Blake

Liz Blake, currently a Writing Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing at Haverford College, holds a Ph.D. from Cornell's English Department. During the summer of 2014 Blake was selected as a fellow in the Summer Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities. During the course of the fellowship Blake worked on a topic modeling project focusing on the work of James Joyce and learned digital pedagogy foundations that she practices in the classroom.

Project Title: Modeling Ulysses: On the 'Topics' of Literary Texts

Project Statement:

By all scholarly accounts, machines shouldn't be able to read Ulysses. This highly allusive text, full of wordplay and indirect reference, requires both literary knowledge and an ability to read beyond the denotative. My project tests this claim by using topic modeling, a tool more often used to map the broad themes of seemingly objective texts, to one of literature’s most subjective. Reading Ulysses against traditional paradigms leads to surprising results: the computer’s list of the “topics” of Ulysses, which is based solely on word frequency and clustering, resonates strikingly with other scholarly accounts of the novel’s themes, suggesting that the language of the novel is more transparent than it might seem. In addition to its implications for my research, the Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship expanded the role of DH in my classroom, leading me to more ambitious use of online resources in student projects. For example, students in a class I’m currently teaching at Haverford College are collaborating on a multi-media cookbook that will be publicly available online. Working together to present their research, writing, and culinary prowess, these students are developing a community resource that showcases their complex engagements with the genre of the cookbook, as well as their technical skills.