|1 Feb 2022||16:00 - 17:30||Online event|
Affinity before Amazon: Using topic modelling to approach genre and taste formation in twentieth-century literary culture
Speaker: Anouk Lang (University of Edinburgh)
About this event
Decades before Amazon’s ‘people who bought this book also bought’ became a ubiquitous feature of digital interfaces for cultural consumption, Sylvia Beach was carefully recording the books borrowed and purchased by the interwar clientele of her celebrated Paris bookstore and lending library, Shakespeare and Company.
Using data extracted from the digitized library cards from Beach’s archive, preserved and made public by the Shakespeare and Company Project at Princeton headed by Joshua Kotin and Rebecca Sutton Koeser, Anouk shows how topic modelling opens up some intriguing possibilities for investigating the affinity between books typically borrowed together, even with a dataset much smaller than the one Amazon and other online retailers draw on when they make inferences about contemporary readers’ purchasing habits. The insights into the taste preferences of Beach’s community of readers made possible by training a topic model, Anouk argues, have the potential to bring to light alternative ways of understanding genre in light of what was actually read during the period—even if by a limited set of people with considerable privilege—rather than what a small handful of influential figures decreed should be read and which was subsequently preserved in anthologies, syllabi and literary history.
In subjecting the Shakespeare and Company borrowing records to the ‘productive deformations’ of computational analysis, Anouk suggests that topic modelling—initially developed by computer scientists for use in domains very far from literary studies—has the capacity to offer insights into aspects of twentieth-century culture that become visible only at scale.
The seminar will be chaired by Dr Siddharth Soni (University of Cambridge) and our respondent will be Dr. Ryan Heuser (Kings College, Cambridge).
About the speaker
Anouk Lang is Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities in the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, where she teaches twentieth and twenty-first-century literature and digital humanities.
Her research interests centre on the way digital technologies can produce new insights into cultural transmission and reception. She has held grants from the AHRC, the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust. Her current project is a co-edited collection on the digital futures of graduate education in the humanities.
This event will be held virtually. All ticket holders have an opportunity to participate via question submission during the Q&A portion of the seminar.
Book your free ticket on the eventbrite page.
Image credit: Images of library cards adapted and reprinted under a CC BY 4.0 licence from the Shakespeare and Company Project, version 1.5.4. Center for Digital Humanities, Princeton University, 2021. https://shakespeareandco.princeton.edu.