Digital Humanities at UW-Madison

The Digital Humanities (DH) is an emerging scholarly approach to the questions we have been investigating in literature (and other areas of study in the humanities such as sociology, art, and psychology) that combines the scientific data sets collected from literature with a literary analysis and interpretation. It is an intersection point between two disciplines with seemingly different origins. Through the use of statistical and computation sciences, we are able to think about ideas in a new way, and explore the way that this data reveals new patterns and concepts that begin to answer some of the unanswerable and difficult questions and challenges faced by literary scholars. The UW-Madison Humanities Research Bridge (explained in the post below) has many such projects, and specifically the ScripThreads Tool created by Eric Hoyt, Kevin Ponto and Carrie Roy explores character interactions and presence throughout a narrative in a visual and interactive manner.

The Digital Humanities changes the way we read and experience text, and specifically narrative. As a reader, narrative is experienced in, and through time, both at the specific point you are reading in time, and time throughout the narrative. DH offers a new perspective and approach to narrative in that we can engage in “distant reading”, which involves experiencing and analyzing the narrative, novel, play, etc. as one, whole entity.

Moretti's character network of Hamlet

Moretti’s character network of Hamlet

This can be accomplished through Franco Moretti’s character networks and maps (Network Theory and Plot Analysis), which filters the text down to interactions between characters, which pioneered the practice of “distant reading” as a form of contemporary literary analysis as opposed to the more traditional “close reading”, which focuses on smaller, individual portions of the text in relation to a theme or thesis.

DH takes these networks one step further by including a strong visual component to the experience of character networks and maps. Just as Moretti quantified character interactions into edges and nodes between character names, the DH similarly quantifies a wide range of characteristics (age, gender, communication, social status, etc.) into data sets and creates interactive tools, methods, and maps to analyze literature in an entirely different way. I will be focusing specifically on Eric Hoyt, Kevin Ponto and Carrie Roy’s ScripThreads Tool, and how it enhances our distant reading literary analysis of texts and screenplays.

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