Digital Humanities Abstracts

“Reconceiving Text Analysis”
Stephen Ramsay IATH, University of Virginia John Bradley King's College London Geoffrey Rockwell McMaster University Stéfan Sinclair University of Alberta

How can we use computers to assist us in the interpretation of literary texts? On the one hand, this has the ring of a settled question. Half of the humanities computing community works to make texts available to researchers and provides facilities whereby those texts may be searched, annotated, and linked. The other half produces tools for textual analysis that allow us to undertake complex statistical and procedural analyses. Yet most humanists outside of our discipline conceive of these activities as either pre-interpretive, or else outside of the normative realm of critical exegesis found in literary criticism, philosophy, history, and the various other disciplines which take the text as central to the endeavor. This panel brings together four creators of text analysis software interested in reconceiving the activity from a theoretical standpoint. Panelists will address a range of questions about text analysis: Can text analysis be reconceived as fundamentally an act of text enrichment--not a taking from, but an adding to the text being analyzed? What happens when text analysis is thought of not as the quest for empirical data about texts, but as a technology more in line with the readerly quest for novel patterns? How might we re-theorize the classical modes of text analysis (searching, word frequency analysis, stylometrics) as participating in the hermeneutics of play? We conceive of this session neither as a critique of existing systems nor as as a commentary on text analysis as it is brought to bear on problems in computational linguistics. Rather, we conceive of this session as theorizing text analysis in literary studies and other fields with similar hermeneutical practices with an eye toward the future of text analysis tools. We realize that proposing such a session in Tübingen, the home of TUSTEP, is like bringing coals to Newcastle, but we offer this panel as a perspective from across the waters -- a different tradition of text analysis and computing. [Note: We have requested that this proposal be considered as a session, despite the fact that we are proposing the delivery of four formal papers. However, we are prepared to adjust ourselves to the time constraints as necessary.]

Finding the Middle Ground Between "Determinism" and "Aesthetic Indeterminacy": A Model for Text Analysis Tools

John Bradley
In Danielle Miller's review of the book The Legacy of Northrop Frye, she notes Imre Salusinsky's observation that the textual theorist is the "true liberal who positions himself in the middle ground between 'determinism' and 'aesthetic indeterminacy'". Over the past several years I have proposed a model for text analysis tools that balances the ability of the computer to carry out a set of formal tasks on a text against the need of the human user to introduce rather more non-deterministic material into an analysis. Although it is meant to reflect a view on some aspects of how a text is analyzed that is not specifically "computer based", it is also based on certain developments in the computing world over the past several years, and on developments in software in a sister field to the humanities: the social sciences. The model is based on XML, and more specifically TEI -- surely a solid foundation upon which text analysis tools should be built. It, however, goes against several of the current developments in XML -- turning, instead, to a view of XML that is, I think, truer to the thinking behind TEI than these current developments. The World Wide Web, with its model of servers and clients, often dominates thinking about the role of computers in certain groups within the computing humanities community. In the web, the server has a resource that can be made available to a community of users -- the clients. The nature of browser-based interaction means that the user can use the web to select displays of results, and can also take advantage of search engines that a server might make available -- posing a query through a form which allows the server machine to select material from the resource to be presented. In the Humanities, then, the WWW encourages the view of scholarly materials as a resource that the WWW makes available to a collection of scholars -- no wonder, perhaps, that conferences like the UK's Digital Resources in the Humanities have begun to appear. The nature of the server/client interaction in the WWW is transactional. A user sends a request (either in the form of a request for a page of material, or in the form of a query), and the server sends back a response. Not surprisingly, given that XML came from the W3C -- setters of standards for the WWW -- there have been a flurry of activities that are based on XML that support this transactional model of interaction. Standards like W3C's SOAP (which is XML based) work best in a what in computing is called a "peer-to-peer" context: where a computer system belonging to one organisation (say a purchasing system) needs to send an order to a peer machine in another (say, supplier) organisation. The transactional model is of course appropriate for certain kinds of humanities resources. In many kinds of linguistics-based work, for example, it is often sensible to view a corpus as a resource to be queried. However, this model does not suit other aspects of the traditional model of humanities scholarship nearly so well. Indeed, the TEI, originally developed before the WWW was available, takes quite a different, and much more intimate, view of the relationship between the user and his/her text. In the TEI's "analytic mechanism" and related schemes such as "feature structures" one sees an attempt to express in SGML (and nowadays XML) connections between text and analysis that are tightly connected to the text itself in that they rely on the insertion of markup by the scholar directly onto the text base. This kind of activity is not so much like the transactional model, which would have the scholar interacting with a text as a remote resource, but instead should be thought of as being closer to a form of ownership -- the scholar gradually makes some aspect of the text his/her own by attaching material ("annotations") that represent her/his personal interests onto a text. I believe there is some evidence to suggest that this "enrichment model" is closer to the interaction between a scholar and his/her text and provides a better model for computer support of humanities scholarship than the transactional one does. During the presentation of this paper we will examine Willard McCarty's "Analytical Onomasticon to the Metamorphoses of Ovid" as an example of textual enrichment. The Onomasticon represents a blending of traditional annotation with computer processing which helps to reveal and assist in the imposition of a unified, yet rich, vision of personification on the text. McCarty's recent analysis of the commentary also proposes a model for the digital commentary in which an enrichment approach is implicit. Furthermore, there are useful models to examine in the social sciences, where there has been the blossoming of tools to provide computer assistance to the kind of textual analysis that is often needed for their texts (e.g. interviews). Particularly interesting in this regard are the packages Nud*ist, NVivo and Atlas.ti, all tools that suggest some characteristics of enrichment that would suit humanities scholarship as well. Tools to support textual enrichment have been available for some time, and some of them are remarkably powerful. TuStep, for example, has its origins in the 1970s -- predating even SGML -- and provides an integrated set of tools to support a broad range of scholarly activities. Much more recently, the "EyeContact" model, proposed by Geoffrey Rockwell and me, operates in a broadly similar fashion -- emphasising a set of tools that can process text and text-related materials, and that can be combined in many ways. I have come to believe, however, that the enrichment model is better served when the emphasis provided by the environment to the user is on viewing of the text and scholarly annotations rather than on the task of assembling of the tools to do work. Thus, it seems to me that "XML/SGML editors" such as XMetal or emacs/psgml provide a good starting point for envisaging a model of what is needed. They are at least aware of XML/SGML constructs and can assist with ensuring XML/SGML conformity. However, on their own they cannot help the user much if s/he tries to introduce one of TEI's more sophisticated analytic mechanism models onto a text -- the TEI guidelines themselves suggest that there is a need for software beyond an XML-aware text editor to facilitate the introduction of the analytical models that they propose. It is in the combining of XML structures (already understood by XML editors) with software objects more closely related to the scholarly tools being modeled that development work would need to be done. The development of software that supports an enrichment model of text is supported by some developments that are XML based. Many of these standards are still in their early days and are as of yet, from an enrichment perspective, hobbled by the transactional focus of the members of the committees that develop them, since they are tailored first to meet the needs of those who process relatively short, relatively simple XML documents that characterise transactional processing. Standards such as XLink -- arising as it does out of HyTime, provides one starting point, and perhaps because of its origin, is less specific to transactional-based work. XSLT and XSL's formatting objects provide another starting point, and the DOM provides a third. A serious development effort, based on these standards, could be undertaken, but I believe one would find that in the end further enhancement of them to more closely match the complex needs of modeling within the humanities would be needed.


Melina Alexa Cornelia Zuell. A Review of Software for Text Analysis. Manneheim: ZUMA, 2000.
John Bradley. “Tools to augment scholarly activity: an architecture to support text analysis.” Augmenting Comprehension: Digital Tools (and Resources) for the History of Science and Philosophy; Papers from the conference "Informatica umanistica: filosofia e risorse digitali" (Bologna, September 2000). Ed. Dino Buzzetti Giuliano Pancaldi Harold Short. : OHC: Oxford and King's College London, 2002.
Willard McCarty et al. An Analytical Onomasticon to the Metamorphoses of Ovid. : ,
Willard McCarty. “The DIY commentary; or, what the reference and the link told each other.” from Paper for ACH/ALLC 2001 New York University 14 June 2001. : , 2001.
Geoffrey Rockwell John Bradley. “Eye-ConTact: Towards a New Design for Research Text Tools.” Computing in the Humanities Working Papers. 1998. A: .

Toward an Algorithmic Criticism

Stephen Ramsay
There is a left-hand tradition in literary analysis which most literary critics think of as incompatible with mainstream scholarly activity. That tradition manifests itself in Hebrew gematria and in the bibliomancy of the ancient Chinese; in the anti-art poetics of the Dadaists and the algorithmic writing of the Oulipo; in Ferdinand de Saussure's secret quest for anagrams in Saturnian poetry and in Emily Dickinson's injunction to read her poems backwards, so that "a certain Something overtakes the mind." These traditions are often deliberately anarchic, mystical, and even irrational in their approach to the text. Instead of the hermeneutics of illumination, in which the goal is some clear statement of meaning or an unfolding of the truth, this tradition asserts the hermeneutics of play. That this tradition should seem so far afield from the normative practices of literary exegesis is itself revelatory of certain distinctive features of the illuminative mode. Literary criticism asserts a rhetoric of explanation intended to reveal both the internal and extrinsic logic--the meaning--of a textual artifact; the more ancient ludic traditions deemphasize this aspect of hermeneutics, often relinquishing this rhetoric entirely, content simply to let alternative formations exist without the scaffolding of explicit interpretation. But these types of interpretive activities, in which one proceeds from text to playful reordering and "refactoring" (to borrow a term from software engineering) to interpretation, only serve to make manifest a progression that is always at work in literary critical method, even when the dominant rhetorics of interpretation attempt to conceal the playfulness beneath. In order to create and communicate meaning, the critic must remap, reenvision, and re-form (even "deform" it, as Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels have suggested) into some alternate arrangement. In essence, one must create the text anew in order to illuminate the original. There is also a right-hand tradition in literary analysis which most literary critics think of as preinterpretive or else unallied with the real work of generating critical interpretation. That tradition manifests itself in programs which display search results; in Busa's Index Thomisticus and in concordancing software; in statistical analysis of word frequency distributions and in the algorithms of authorship attribution. Instead of the hermeneutics of play, in which the goal is simply to facilitate engagement and enable insight, these traditions assert the hermeneutics of the algorithm. These types of interpretive activities have always possessed the sheen of scientism--a feature which practitioners of text analysis have sometimes emphasized and sometimes deemphasized as the tools have moved across the disciplines and in and out of academic fashions. Yet it may be argued that its closest family resemblance lies not with conventional literary criticism, but with its ludic cousin. The algorithmic analysis of text may be thought of as lending a positivistic slant to critical activity, but it may just as easily be thought of as yet another critical practice at the interstices of work and interpretation--a critical act of deformation, neither mystical nor anarchic, and yet invested with the same power to facilitate engagement and enable insight. Both the ludic and scientistic traditions of interpretive activity exist on the margins of literary critical practice. Mainstream literary critical culture tends to consign the former to the realm of literary artifact while viewing algorithmic criticism as merely part of the pre-interpretive organizations deemed necessary for certain limited types of analysis. In this way, the Muse and the mathematician each abut the boundaries of a central position (mainstream literary critical practice) which is too rational for the former and too mysterious for the latter. As long as the work generated by these tools is perceived as pre-interpretive--or worse, positivistic--humanities computing in literary studies will continue to operate outside of mainstream discussions in the discipline. I would like to suggest that we reenvision text analysis from the theoretical standpoint of the ludic tradition--envisioning computer-assisted text analysis in literary studies as preinterpretive in the strong sense of exploration and play. Reforming and refactoring to enable insight, notice aspects, and reveal codes. I have developed a set of software components intended to demonstrate these principles called the D-Machines. The D-Machines consist of a set of program modules that allow one to perform discrete deformations of text: e.g. print backwards and forwards, switch gender terms, colorize word frequencies, show only nouns or only verbs, and so on. I will demonstrate this system and show how it may be used to enact the principles I have set forth concerning the reconception of text analysis as an activity which participates in the creation of those alternative textualities which undergird all literary critical acts.


Jerome J. McGann Lisa Samuels. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History. 1999. 30: 25-56.
Warren F. Motte. OuLiPo: A Primer of Potential Literature. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998.
Raymond Queneau. Cent Mille Milliard de Poems. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.
Jean Starobinsky. Words upon Words: The Anagrams of Ferdinand de Saussure. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
The Book of Changes (Zhouyi). Durham East-Asia Series. Ed. Richard Rutt. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 1996. 1.

What is text analysis, really?

Geoffrey Rockwell
In a mock confrontation between Allen Renear and Jerome McGann at the ACH/ALLC in 1999 at the University of Virginia, two views as to what a text really is were put forward. Renear put forward, for the sake of the confrontation, the OHCO (ordered hierarchy of content objects) perspective while McGann practiced a view of text as performance.° In the context of a humanities computing conference this confrontation was designed to highlight the relationship between theories of text and ways of representing texts digitally. Renear's Platonic view of the text as a real abstract OHCO fits nicely with the dominant practice for the digital representation of texts, namely the guidelines of the TEI. McGann instead gave us an example of a reading that was both a performance itself and pointed to the (hypertextual) links within and around the text. McGann's challenge to Renear was to show how a reading of a text both was the text and could not be captured by an OCHO. The confrontation succinctly opened again the question of the relationship between how we represent texts, how we use them, and our theories of textuality. What does this have to do with literary text analysis and computing? What was not made clear in the confrontation was the role of the tools we use for accessing and manipulating digital texts; tools which I will call text analysis tools. If we are to take McGann's public performance of a reading as an analogue for what we wish to achieve digitally, we have to think not just about how we represent the text but also about analysis and the tools that are used to perform the analysis on a computer. The logic of the tools, despite (or because of) their tendency to become transparent in use, can enhance or constrain different types of reading which in turn makes them a better or worse fit for practices of literary criticism. Another way of saying this is that we have a model of computer-assisted literary text analysis that is guided by a view of what a text is and how we should use it that does not match the practice of many contemporary literary critics. (It should be noted that this is not true in the field of computational linguistics and may not be true in literary criticism in the future). Consequently, as others have pointed out, text analysis tools and the practices of literary computer analysis have not had the anticipated impact on the research community. This is often blamed on the absence of easy-to-use tools, especially tools that take advantage of OCHO, but I will argue in this paper that there are two other issues that have to be taken into account. First, the tools we have (and even those we anticipate) have emerged out of a particular critical tradition that I will call an "editorial" tradition going back to tools for editors of concordances. To understand the current state of text analysis tools we need to review their history in terms of the practices they complement and the theories of textual practice they augment. Second, I will argue that the moment when humanities computing could have an impact on literary criticism through the provision of critical tools (and relevant theories of what computer based text analysis) is passing as server-based text access tools that provide access to licensed digital archives seem to satisfy most of our colleagues while we keep on imagining personal tools. In other words, we will soon be Googled out of theoretical relevance - the text tools developed outside the scholarly community (for digital library access) may prove a closer fit to the practices of our colleagues than our elaborate analytical tools. While I doubt we can resist the commercial forces that lead to the bundling of limited tools and texts, we can understand this process in terms of its relevance to the practices of our colleagues and imagine an alternative that is relevant to contemporary literary criticism. This paper will therefore conclude with (yet another) proposal for a model for text analysis tools, a portal model. The portal model provides us a way of taking advantage of the trend away from personal tools towards community tools while also engaging a different critical practice of playful criticism. The theory of analysis illustrated is in a hermeneutical tradition which incorporates play in method and which is best expressed in the work of Gadamer. A portal for text analysis can finesse the problems of ease-of-use while also providing a virtual play-pen for contemporary critics to try computer-assisted techniques beyond those provided by the commercial publishers of e-texts. The portal ironically could be the backdoor through which our colleagues could be introduced to the playful work of humanities computing. That said, we should be honest and admit that much of our discourse around tools is for our own sake. It is our humanities computing play with tools and texts. Does it matter if anyone else ever uses these tools as long as they help us understand the practice of reading digital representations? The portal prototype to be demonstrated, while it may have practical applications, is for humanities computing an attempt to illustrate a particular relationship between a theory of texts and analysis on the one hand and an interface for text analysis that implements that theory on the other hand. In conclusion, this paper will do the following:
  • 1. Present a short history of text analysis tools as they evolved from batch concording tools to server-based digital library access tools. This history will focus on the relationship between the form of the tools with the practices they enabled.
  • 2. Present an alternative definition of analysis building on Gadamer's hermeneutics of play.
  • 3. Demonstrate a text-analysis portal prototype that is designed to enable playful practice.


J. Bradley G. Rockwell. “Watching Scepticism: Computer Assisted Visualization and Hume's Dialogues .” Research in Humanities Computing. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 5: 32-47.
Hans-Georg Gadamer. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroad, 1985.
Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1950.
I. Lancashire J. Bradley W. McCarty M. Stairs T. R. Wooldridge. Using TACT with Electronic Texts. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996.
R. G. Potter. “Literary Criticism and Literary Computing: The Difficulties of a Synthesis.” Computers and the Humanities. 1988. 22: 91-97.
G. Rockwell J. Bradley. “Eye-ConTact:Towards a New Design for Research Text Tools.” Computing in the Humanities Working Papers. 1998. : .
G. Rockwell J. Bradley. “Empreintes dans le sable: Visualisation scientifique et analyse de texte.” Litterature, informatique, lecture. Ed. A. Vuillemin M. LeNoble. Paris: Pulim, 1999. 130-160.
G. Rockwell. “The Visual Concordance: The Design of Eye-ConTact.” Text Technology. 2001. 10: 73-86.

Computer-Assisted Text Exploration

Stéfan Sinclair
“Mon plaisir peut très bien prendre la forme d'une dérive. La dérive advient chaque fois que je ne respecte pas le tout, et qu'à force de paraître emporté ici et là au gré des illusions, séductions et intimidations de langage, tel un bouchon sur la vague, je reste immobile, pivotant sur la jouissance intraitable qui me lie au texte.” -- Roland Barthes, Le Plaisir du texte
Existing text-analysis tools can be very useful if one knows what questions to ask (and how to ask them). In general, they presuppose a researcher who has read a text, who has formulated some questions about it, who then sets the text aside while using analysis tools to attempt to answer the questions (with a text in electronic form that is rarely viewable in its entirety). Thus, data completely displaces the text, at least temporarily, as the object/objective of study in text-analysis. Etymologically, analysis denotes breaking something up or loosening it. Computer-assisted text-analysis tools have fully exploited the flexible, digital nature of the electronic medium to allow texts to be segmented in innumerable ways. It has proven far trickier to reconstitute the divided parts into meaningful units, in large part because this step depends on an interpretive intention that is beyond the capabilities of current tools. Connotatively, analysis includes this interpretive or synthetic phase that completes the circle of segmentation and unification, but text-analysis tools have historically stranded the literary critic at the half-way, base arc, part of the process (though many imaginative and resourceful colleagues have made their own way back up). The computer need not manifest signs of intelligence to play a role in completing the analytic process, it need only help the critic do so. One fairly simple strategy for this is to create paths from the data (segmented text) back to the integral text. That functionality was precisely the motivation behind the creation of the first version of HyperPo, an online text-analysis and exploration tool (see <>). HyperPo can generate many of the usual types of data in text-analysis, such as frequency, collocation and distribution lists, but it can also create links from those data back to the text, displaying both simultaneously (see Sinclair 1997 and 1998 for more details on these functions). As such, HyperPo can break down a text into constitutive parts and do comparative analyses, but it can also reconstitute a text from any of those parts. Because there is a high degree of speculation and experimentation involved, I have found it more useful to view such decomposing and recomposing methods less as analysis and more as exploration. I navigate through the text and data the way one might explore the streets of an unknown city or the trails in an expansive parkland; various things along the way may prompt me to change directions, and though I often don't know where I am going, I know that I am somehow accumulating a broader representation of the terrain. The notion of text-analysis as exploration has recently led me to develop some more adventurous functions for HyperPo (functions that may not be available at the above web address until August 2002). These new functions are less concerned with the immediate analysis of a text and more concerned with multiplying the means for its traversal, its discovery, and enjoyment (perhaps even Roland Barthes' jouissance). Playing with a text may not contribute directly to its analysis, but I believe it can contribute to its appreciation and perhaps its understanding (in ways that might be next to impossible to measure). As Malcolm McCullough states in a manner that is fully compatible to the development of a literary interpretation: "play often lacks any immediately obvious aim, other than the pursuit of stimulation, but functions almost instinctively to serve the process of development" (223). Like HyperPo itself (HYPERtexte POtentiel), the new functions are inspired by the work of the Oulipo (OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle; see <> for more information on this group). Interestingly, the Oulipo divides its activities (in characteristically ironic terms) between "l'analoupisme" (the analytic) and "le synthoulipisme" (the synthetic) and states that "the synthetic branch is more ambitious; it is the primary vocation of the Oulipo. It is a matter of opening to our predecessors new and unexplored ways" (17, my translation). Such are my ambitions too.


Roland Barthes. Le Plaisir du texte. Paris: Seuil, 1973.
Malcolm McCullough. Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
Oulipo. La Littérature potentielle. Paris: Gallimard, 1973.
Stéfan Sinclair. “HyperPo: The Next Generation.” ACH-ALLC '99 Conference Proceedings. Virginia: University of Virginia, 1999.
Stéfan Sinclair. “L'HyperPo: Exploration des structures lexicales à l'aide des formes hypertextuelles.” ACH-ALLC '97 Conference Abstracts. Ed. Greg Lessard Michael Levison. Kingston, ON: Queen's University Press, 1997.