.txtLAB is a laboratory for cultural analytics at McGill University directed by Andrew Piper. We explore the use of computational and quantitative approaches towards understanding literature and culture in both the past and present. Our aim is to use the tools of data science, network analysis and machine learning to promote a more inclusive understanding of culture and creativity.
Our current major 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 long-nineteenth century using new computational techniques in image detection. Bringing together a small team of humanists and computer scientists, our project aims to understand how visual practices of communication contributed to the standardization of scientific knowledge. By focusing on the “page image” rather than writing we aim to understand how visual techniques were used to engage a public and make new ideas accessible. And by dramatically altering the scale of analysis to account for several million pages 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? Recent lab projects include the cultural capital of nostalgia in prizewinning novels, the social positioning of gender in contemporary novels, racial representation in Hollywood film, the institutional concentration of prestige within academic publications, and the gender bias of book reviews and course syllabi.
- 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.