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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.
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txtLAB450. A Multilingual Data Set of Novels for Teaching and Research

txtLAB450. A Multilingual Data Set of Novels for Teaching and Research

I am very pleased to be able to share a collection of 450 novels that we have assembled that were published in English, French, and German during the long nineteenth century (1770-1930). The novels are labeled according to language, year of publication, author, title, author gender, point of view, and word length. They have been labeled as well...
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...
How I predicted the Giller Prize (and still lost the challenge)

How I predicted the Giller Prize (and still lost the challenge)

This Fall we created a lab challenge to see if anyone could predict this year’s Giller Prize winner using a computer. The winner was announced last night, and it turns out I correctly predicted the winner. But I still lost the challenge. In this lies an instructive tale about humans, computers, and predicting human behaviour....

Can a computer predict a literary prize?

This evening the Giller Prize winner will be announced. For those not in the know, the Giller Prize is Canada’s most prestigious literary award. Like the Man Booker in the UK or National Book Award in the US, the Giller Prize serves as a way of signalling to Canadian readers important new fiction. It relies...
Detecting Literary Characters

Detecting Literary Characters

We are pleased to announce the acceptance of a new paper in this year’s Conference for Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-15). The paper offers additional methods beyond NER for identifying characters in novels. This work is part of our on-going project of studying social networks in fiction. As we’ve come to realize, just...
Upward Looking and Forward Thinking? The Stance of the Modern Novel

Upward Looking and Forward Thinking? The Stance of the Modern Novel

What would it mean for the novel to take a stance? To position itself relative to the world? How would it do so and how might we understand this positioning? At the individual level, we can imagine how certain novels are written from a particular orientation to the world,  from “below” as in the case of Notes from...
The Sweep of History

The Sweep of History

This is the second in a series of posts by .txtLAB interns. This post is authored by Magdalene Klassen. Many if not most contemporary historians would probably agree with the statement that “the typical mode of explanation used by historians [is] narrative.” (Roberts 2001) Storytelling, then, is not the difference between history and fiction. Instead, we...
Prizewinners versus Bestsellers. Timeless Reads or the Spotlight of Fame

Prizewinners versus Bestsellers. Timeless Reads or the Spotlight of Fame

This post is the first in a series by this year’s .txtLAB interns. It is authored by Eva Portelance. Building Corpuses The first step in our search for answers required that we build solid corpuses for comparison. The PW corpus was selected from five main literary awards given in the United-States, Canada and Britain. These...
Congratulations to this year's .txtLAB interns!

Congratulations to this year’s .txtLAB interns!

The .txtLAB internship program held its end of the semester presentations this past week. Projects ranged from the study of prize-winning novels, comparisons of nineteenth-century histories, novels, and philosophy in three languages, the construction of an iPython notebook for reliably extracting social networks from novels, and finally a study of citation networks between supervisors and their...
The New Young Adult Fiction. More Human, More Me.

The New Young Adult Fiction. More Human, More Me.

What difference does an editor make? This was the question posed by a recent profile of the highly successful editor of young adult fiction, Julie Strauss-Gabel, who manages the imprint Dutton Children’s Books. Her titles have consistently performed well over recent years and it was a timely reminder of the impact that a good editor can...

Weird Idea Wednesday: Are sentences like shopping carts?

I’ve decided to introduce a new series to our lab. It’s called Weird Idea Wednesday and the idea is to throw out something a little whacky but potentially interesting. Our field is in its infancy and there is no road map. Weird ideas have an important role to play, even if they help profile the...