Computational Cultural History

AHA Session 218
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbus Circle (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Jessica Marie Johnson, Johns Hopkins University
Jessica Marie Johnson, Johns Hopkins University

Session Abstract

In a 2017 white paper from the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) on “Digital History and Argument”, twenty-seven historians laid out a case for the different forms of historical arguments made possible by digital approaches. Rather than relegating sections on methods to the margins or erasing them altogether, the authors noted, methodological reflection needed to be placed front and center in the emerging field of digital history. This panel explores how computational analysis is opening up new avenues of inquiry for cultural history and adds to the methodological repertoire of the field. While cultural historians have long relied on the close study of material artifacts, digitization allows us to survey cultural forms in large numbers that otherwise remain inaccessible to individual scholars. The panel will place front and center method by showing how computational image, spatial, and text analysis are opening up new scholarship in History.

The panel will begin with Marc Priewe’s paper titled “Interfacing News and Disaster: The Eruption of Krakatoa in the Digitized 19th Century Press. It will discuss how text mining can help us further study the international news waves caused by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, one of the most impactful natural disasters of the century. In “Lost in the City—Mapping Edward P. Jones’s Short Fiction”, Kenton Ramby will then turn to how spatial analysis of literature - specifically Lost in the City (1992) and All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006) - opens up new understandings of how African Americans lived in or near the nation’s capital. Next, Alexander Dunst in “The Rise of the Graphic Novel: Comics and the Evolution of Literary Prestige” will show how text and image analysis can track shifts in graphic novels. These quantitative methods provide evidence for the aesthetic developments that have accompanied the gradual elevation of comic books from popular culture to literary status. Last, Lauren Tilton’s paper “Reviewing the 1960s: Sit-Coms and American Culture” will explore how image analysis offers insights into the politics of representation in 1960s U.S. sit-coms by focusing on Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. She will also introduce a methodology for computational image analysis called “distant viewing”.

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