Digital Humanities Abstracts

“A Demonstration of the Linear Modeling Kit”
Larry L. Stewart English Department, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio Peter L. Havholm English Department, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio

A Demonstration of the Linear Modeling Kit

The Linear Modeling Kit, an application designed by the writers, is a compiled program that allows users to make narrative generators. The generators produce narratives made of user-created text strings arranged according to user-specified rules. The software's authors use the LMK in literature courses as a way of helping students think more deeply and precisely about narrative and narrative theory. Students are asked to "program" their own understanding of a narrative theory into the LMK, thus creating a narrative generator; and the quality of the skeletal narratives the resulting generator can produce indicates the powers of the students' understanding. Essentially, a Linear Modeling Kit generator is a simple computer program that generates statements using a supplied vocabulary and rules about how vocabulary pieces may be connected. The user may create any number and kind of categories. For example, narrative categories might be called "exposition," "complication," "climax" and "denouement" or, in the context of Vladimir Propp's analysis, "initial situation," "absentation," "interdiction," "violation," etc. The user may then enter any number of text strings which exemplify these categories: for instance, "Two young children once lived in a large forest" might be placed in the category "exposition." After having created categorized lists of strings, the user would then create rules for their linking: for example, a generator may be programmed to go from initial situation to absentation and then to interdiction or, perhaps, to go from initial situation either to absentation or to interdiction and then to loop back to an earlier category. The generator randomly selects a text string from each category list it visits, so the resulting narrative is a direct consequence of the analysis represented by categories and combinatory rules. The LMK also allows the user to "mark" text strings for any attribute. For example, a string could be marked masculine or feminine to ensure a continuity of gender in the protagonist, or it could be marked on a scale of one to ten for stylistic formality or violence or oral imagery or for any attribute deemed relevant by the user. In our classes, we ask students to study a particular kind of narrative (for instance, the bildungsroman or the contemporary romance) and to create a generator that will produce skeletal narratives of that kind. The narratives, thus, become a kind of test of the students' understanding? Do the narratives "sound like" skeletal versions of the bildungsroman? If not, what is missing in the theory by which the generator was produced? We have found the pedagogy to be an extremely powerful one which urges students to think about narratives and narrative theory with unusual precision. We will demonstrate the interactive creation of a narrative generator and show examples of a wide variety of student-produced generators.