Textual Studies Program

April 10, 2017

Rachel Sagner Buurma (Swarthmore) 4/27

Rachel Sagner Buurma (Swarthmore) will be giving a talk entitled “The Preparation of the Victorian Novel and the Preparation of the Topic Model” on April 27, 2017 at 3:30pm, in the Petersen Room in Allen Library for the Material Texts Colloquium (please note the date and location have changed). All are welcome.

Abstract: In this talk I draw together the research practices of Victorian novelists with the research practices of digital humanists to ask what we might learn by seeing them both as part of a longer history of literary research. Following Roland Barthes’s approach in “The Preparation of the Novel,” I first ask how understanding novelists’ note-taking systems, personal knowledge organization technologies, and self-archiving practices can help us rethink our ways of knowing the Victorian novel.  Taking prolific and almost-forgotten Victorian novelist Charles Reade as a case study, I offer illustrations drawn from the hundreds of volumes of notes and clippings he amassed over the course of his career. I then turn from Reade’s research practices to topic modeling, a method of unsupervised machine learning popular with digital humanists. Briefly introducing the theory and practice of topic modeling, I show why it makes sense to see the computational modeling of corpora of novels as a contingent way of imagining novels’ origins rather than as a more literal analysis of their contents.

Bio: Rachel Sagner Buurma is Associate Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College, where she works on Victorian literature and culture, the novel, book history, twentieth-century Anglo-American literary criticism, and literary informatics. She is finishing a project on the social history of narrative theories of the Victorian novel and beginning one on the research practices of nineteenth-century novelists. With Laura Heffernan, she is working on a new disciplinary history of English literary studies titled “The Teaching Archive.” Along with Jon Shaw (University of Pennsylvania Libraries), she co-directs the Early Novels Database. For further particulars see her website: www.rachelsagnerbuurma.org