Constance Walker and Erin Winter (Carleton College)
How can big data and digital humanities tools expand our knowledge of literary history and literary texts? My current research explores this important question by using such tools to study a little-studied or known set of lyric poems about the arts by British women writers, written between 1660-1900. So far I have found 180 of these poems, remarkable in terms of being simultaneously affective responses to works of art and works of art themselves. Erin and I have created a searchable database of the texts of these poems and their metadata that allows us to study them quantitatively, sorting by such categories as date, publication venue, genre, subject, and gender of the artist to whom the poems are addressed. We have also begun to analyze and represent our data visually with such programs as Gephi, Wordle, and Excel, enabling us to establish significant patterns in the poems’ diction and imagery, thematic trends over time, and social and literary connections between the writers. We intend ultimately to use the data we are producing and representing to better understand British women writers’ conceptions of how we create and respond to art, and how those conceptions shaped their own practices as poets. For the Digital Scholarship Conference, we propose to present a short illustrated paper describing our project, sharing our graphs and our findings thus far, and reflecting on the benefits of our collaboration, with suggestions for undertaking similar analyses.