I’m giving a talk at the Literary and Cultural Studies Colloquium at Carnegie Mellon this Thursday, October 2:
Is it our job to be the best readers?
The emergence of quantitative methods for literary study allows us reassess the relationship between literary scholarship and the practice of expert critical reading. Though reading has the status of doxa in literary studies, it may obscure more than it clarifies about the problems posed by quantification. I exemplify the challenges in a quantitative analysis of scholarship itself, using a probabilistic topic model to explore discursive patterns in twenty-one thousand journal articles from the 1880s to the present. The model reveals, among other things, the surprisingly recent emergence of the theme of reading and the scope of literary studies’ turn toward the terrain of the social sciences since the 1970s. It is, in fact, the social sciences that might help us toward methodological alternatives to “reading” that allow us to make sense of the aggregate patterns in literary practice revealed by techniques like topic modeling.
If you’re in Pittsburgh: it’s at 4:30 p.m. in 255B Baker Hall.