.txtLAB is a laboratory for cultural analytics at McGill University directed by Andrew Piper. We explore the use of computational and quantitative approaches to understand literature and culture in both the past and present. Our aim is to engage in critical and creative uses of the tools from network science, machine learning, or image processing to think about language, literature, and culture at large and small scale.
Our current projects include:
  • NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel. A major international collaborative partnership funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It brings together researchers and partners from 21 different academic and non-academic institutions to produce the first large-scale quantitative history of the novel. Our aim is to bring new computational approaches in the field of text mining to the study of literature as well as bring the unique knowledge of literary studies to bear on larger debates about data mining and the place of information technology within society.
  • The Visibility of Knowledge. This project aims to study how scientific knowledge became visible to readers over the course of the nineteenth century using new computational techniques in image detection. The nineteenth century is traditionally understood as the great age of scientific popularization, when scientific knowledge moved from a specialized writing practice to one that was increasingly engaged with by a broader public. Bringing together a small team of humanists and computer scientists, our project intends to contribute to this history in two important ways: first, by focusing on illustration rather than writing we aim to understand how visual techniques were used to engage a public and make new ideas accessible; second, by dramatically altering the scale of analysis to account for several hundreds of thousands of documents through the use of computational image detection, we aim to more fully understand the process of scientific diffusion, of how ideas reached the public in terms of scope, timing, and visual form. Collaborators for this project include Mohamed Cheriet at the Synchromedia Lab at the École de téchnologie supérieure in Montreal and Chad Wellmon at the University of Virginia.
  • The Inequality of Culture. Economic inequality has become the signal issue of our day. In this project we’re interested in exploring its cultural underside. How has cultural concentration created biases and limited the diversity of creative expression? How can we use new computational tools in cultural analysis to identify these biases and detect new, more democratic forms of expression?
  • Character Networks. This marks an on-going collaboration with Derek Ruths, Director of the Network Dynamics Lab at McGill, to study the ways in which social networks can give us new insights into the social structures of literature.
And many more! The list of things we’re working on is a long one (narrative pacing, cultural advocacy, political polarization) and is constantly evolving. Come find out more if you’re interested or follow us on Twitter @_akpiper.