Digital Humanities

What can Machine Learning do for Literary Critics?

First in a series of posts about artificial intelligence sparked by “The Great AI Awakening,” an article from December 2016 by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in the New York Times Magazine. Cross-posted to The Augmented Criticism Lab‘s blog.

Can you trust machines to make decisions on your behalf? You’re doing it already, when you trust the results of a search engine or follow directions on your phone or read news on social media that confirms your worldview. It’s so natural that you forget it’s artificial; someone programmed a machine to make it happen. If Arthur C. Clarke is right (“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”), we’re living in the age of magical thinking.

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Talk: Unnatural Language and Natural Thinking

I’m giving a talk on the University of Calgary campus (in SS 1015) on Friday December 2, 2016 at 3:15pm.


Unnatural Language and Natural Thinking: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries


Critics of computational text-analysis tend to perceive its focus on language patterns as a flattening of qualitative texts into quantifiable patterns. They’re right. But a text’s linguistic operating-system deserves close scrutiny when it reveals features of the text that a human reader can’t perceive, or when it flags evidence beyond our capacity to gather. The Augmented Criticism Lab has developed algorithms to detect features of repetition and variation in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries (starting with drama, namely the Folger’s Digital Anthology). We’ve begun with features like rhetorical figures that repeat lemmas (heed, heedful, heeding) or morphemes (heeding, wringing, vexing). We use natural-language processing to gather evidence of these unnatural formulations, to ask whether they signal natural habits of thought. The interpretive payoff is our ability to make more definitive arguments not just about these figures, but also about underlying cognitive habits.

This paper describes our process and our corpus, and presents a range of our results with this initial corpus before we expand to the billion words in the EEBO-TCP corpus (1473-1700).

For more information about the Augmented Criticism Lab, visit < >.

Digital Humanities at the University of Calgary

Are you interested in doing graduate work in the digital humanities at the University of Calgary? Or just want to learn more about what we’re doing in this field?

Drop me a line. I’m accepting graduate students (MA and PhD) for Fall 2017.

Faculty here at the University of Calgary are topic-modelling sci-fi archives and using computers to analyze Shakespeare’s language patterns. In the Department of English we digitize, deform, and interpret texts, to develop new methods of digital philology; and we work with computer scientists to quantify, process, and visualize texts to uncover social, cultural, political, and historical trends.

If shaping the future of the humanities appeals to you, consider applying to the Department of English to do your graduate work in this field. The application deadline is December 10, 2016 for admission in Fall 2016.

Contact me for details, or to ask questions:

Talk: Computational Media Design + DH

This is a talk I gave on October 27th at the University of Calgary, “The Interface between CMD and Digital Humanities” about relationships between the Computational Media Design program and the digital humanities on campus. 
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Student Projects in the Digital Humanities

This is a brief post, to highlight the work of my students this past term in a directed-study course in the digital humanities. Aaron Ellsworth and Will Best have each undertaken research projects, and have published a series of blog posts on their processes and their results. (Click on each name for each series.)

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Digital Humanities at Congress 2016

A list of events for digital humanists at Congress 2016 (May 28-June 3, 2016), compiled by Michael Ullyot. To add an event, send details to ullyot{at}

Events are listed in the order they were received (i.e. not in chronological order).  

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Digital Humanities Summer Institute @ Congress 2016

Do you get the feeling that your computer could be doing more work for you, instead of making you do more work? Are you curious about how the Digital Humanities can support your research, teaching, and dissemination?

The Digital Humanities (DH) Summer Insitute @ Congress 2016 is a series of 2.5-hour workshops for scholars, staff, and students interested in a hands-on introduction to DH tools, techniques and methods:

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Text-Analysis Interest Group

In April 2016, Stephen Childs (OIA) and Michael Ullyot (Faculty of Arts) are launching an interest group for anyone at the University of Calgary interested in computational text-analysis. These include natural language processing, corpus linguistics, topic modelling, qualitative analysis, or any other statistical or quantitative approach to qualitative texts. We envision a group meeting once or twice per term to discuss individual projects/methods and to collaborate on projects of joint interest.

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Call for Papers, CSDH/SCHN 2016

Calgary (Canada), May 29-June 1, 2016

[Cross-posted from the CSDH/SCHN website.]

The Canadian Society for Digital Humanities invites scholars, practitioners, and graduate students to submit proposals for papers and digital demonstrations for its annual meeting, which will be held at the 2016 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Calgary, from May 30th to June 1. 

We encourage submissions on all topics relating to both theory and practice in the evolving field of the digital humanities.

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Shakespeare and the Screen

For many readers, Shakespeare is the ultimate TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). His texts are full of detailed and archaic language, in contrast to the more immediate gratifications of onscreen media.

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