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Last modified: Monday, February 4, 2013

Leading scholar of digital literary studies to speak at IU Bloomington

Feb. 4, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What can computers tell us about changes in literary style or the evolution of social attitudes? A lot, according to Matthew L. Jockers, who uses sophisticated computer algorithms to analyze data sets of literary and historical texts from the 19th century.

Jockers will speak about his work Friday, Feb. 8, at Indiana University Bloomington. His lecture, "Correlating Theme, Geography and Sentiment in the 19th-Century Literary Imagination," will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in State Room East of the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St.

Matthew Jockers

Matthew Jockers

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Jockers, an assistant professor of English and a researcher at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska, will speak about research on such questions as how literary expressions about slavery change according to fictional setting, and whether attitudes toward landlords and tenants are different in novels set in Ireland as opposed to novels set in America or England. Using data mined from about 3,500 works of fiction, he makes connections between settings, themes and sentiments to chart ways in which places, such as Ireland, are "invented" in the literary imagination.

An article in The New York Times last week said that Jockers "describes the tools of his trade in terms familiar to an Internet software engineer -- algorithms that use machine learning and network analysis techniques." It reports on research that concluded the most influential authors in English of the 1800s were Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott and not, as many would guess, Dickens, Hawthorne or Twain.

Sponsors of the lecture are IU Bloomington's Catapult Center for Digital Humanities and Computational Analysis of Texts and the Digital Culture Lab in the School of Library and Information Science. William R. Newman, Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, directs the Catapult Center, which the College of Arts and Sciences launched last fall to encourage research and education in digital humanities.

The lecture is part of a spring 2013 colloquia series sponsored by the Catapult Center.