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Welcome to .txtLAB, 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 engage in critical and creative uses of the tools of network science, machine learning, or image processing to think about language, literature, and culture at both large and small scale.
In the media
On Prestige Bias in the Chronicle of Higher Ed

On Prestige Bias in the Chronicle of Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a version of our essay on the concentration of institutional prestige as its cover story this week. In it we expand our reflections about how to change the current system. The essay is based on our original piece that appeared in Critical Inquiry. Here is an excerpt from the...
Beyond Polarization: Studying Books, Readers, and Political Affiliation

Beyond Polarization: Studying Books, Readers, and Political Affiliation

I have a new study out with my collaborator Richard Jean So that appeared in the Guardian, which shows ways of finding cultural commonality in our age of political polarization. Using the site Goodreads, we identify collections of books that both liberals and conservatives like to read. We show how these books drive different kinds of reader behaviour, prompting...
Is data good for creative writing? My interview with @DIYMFA Radio

Is data good for creative writing? My interview with @DIYMFA Radio

This past Spring I conducted an interview with Gabriela Pereira, host of @DIYMFA Radio. These are a fantastic series of podcasts for aspiring writers to learn more about the craft without paying enormous sums of money to attend an MFA program. In the interview, we talk about how and whether data can be useful for...
Why do book reviews still treat women like it's the 19th Century?

Why do book reviews still treat women like it’s the 19th Century?

I have a new piece out with my collaborator Richard Jean So at The New Republic that explores gender bias in book reviews. Looking at a sample of 10,000 book reviews published in The New York Times since 2000, we found a disappointing story about how reviews of women’s books overwhelmingly skew towards family and...
Do Creative Writing Degrees Impact the Contemporary Novel?

Do Creative Writing Degrees Impact the Contemporary Novel?

I have a new piece out in The Atlantic with Richard Jean So. The piece addresses recent debates as to whether MFA programs have had a major impact on contemporary novels. The short version is that there is very little evidence to suggest any major differences between novels written by authors with MFA degrees and...
CBC interview on using algorithms to predict prizewinners and bestsellers

CBC interview on using algorithms to predict prizewinners and bestsellers

This past weekend I participated in an interview with Jeanette Kelly on the CBC to discuss our new work on using computers to predict bestsellers and prizewinning novels. In it I discuss the Devoir challenge in which local Quebec writers try to impersonate a bestseller using our data and our successful attempt at predicting this year’s Giller Prize winner...
Interview with BookNet Canada on algorithms, publishing and creative writing

Interview with BookNet Canada on algorithms, publishing and creative writing

I recently did a podcast with the BookNet group in Canada that focuses on the intersection of technology and books. They were interested in our research focusing on prizewinning and bestselling novels. My main emphasis in the discussion was to focus on the way computers can be useful for different kinds of audiences: for publishers to better understand the books...
The Devoir Challenge. How to write like an American Bestseller

The Devoir Challenge. How to write like an American Bestseller

When the books editor of Le Devoir, Catherine Lalonde, called to ask if my lab would supply a data-driven guide on how to write like a bestseller, I enthusiastically said yes. But I expected everyone else would say no. Surely writers will be allergic to data. And surely Quebecois and Canadian writers won’t want to write like...
Quantifying the Weepy Bestseller

Quantifying the Weepy Bestseller

I have a new piece out that is appearing in The New Republic. In a number of recent book reviews, literary critics and novelists arrive at the consensus that to be a great writer, one must avoid being “sentimental.” One famous novelist describes it as a “cardinal sin” of writing. But is it actually true? Using a computer science method...