Waiting for the tooth fairy

While I expected to come back online today with a rush of energy, to joyfully move on to the next steps, I have to admit that a) the blogging abstention in July did not even suffice for me to deliver all that I wanted to finish before my vacation and b) having lost half a tooth in a bike accident during said vacation gives me mostly a feeling of o-my-God-how-am-I-going-to-manage-all-this-with-such-a-headache.

While waiting for the tooth fairy, I have still a few great moments to look back on and others to look forward to – which lightens up the headache, somehow.

First, I had a great time both in Trier and in Leipzig in July. I conceived the two papers I gave there (one at the Trier Colloquium on DH and one at the DH Summer School in Leipzig) as complementing one another, which gave me in the end about 30 pages to think about my disciplinary self-understanding. Although written in some kind of fever, these papers helped me formulate soberly what I am doing beyond the headline “DH”. They opened unexpected perspectives on what could become a theoretical book on digital philology – which in turn does not really help me focus on my habilitation in German Literature, but I will find a way to do both (eventually).

During the Leipzig Summer School, I had the opportunity to attend 2 days of the stylometry workshop. I installed R and Gephi on my computer like an excited kid with new toys and tried to play around with our data. Since I had not really planned to do so, our datasets were not clean at all and really almost not usable. But it gave me a sense of what can be done with the tools (since Alex cleaned the data in the meantime, I will be able to proceed with my experiments somewhat more seriously now…). Here is one example of a PCA-visualization of the most frequent words in our corpus (I have excluded the Boeckh book list since it contains no syntax and hence falls totally out of the schema):

PCA w/ 300 MFW. Corpus: Letters and Texts (uncleaned)

PCA w/ 300 MFW. Corpus: Letters and Texts (uncleaned)

The first PC logically divides the French and the German letters texts; as could be expected, it is the Chamisso letters that come closer to the French letters. The letter nr 5, which always takes an exterior position, is a fragmentary, very short one (you can read it here) and lacks statistical relevance. The second PC tends (I think) to differentiate between feminine and masculine writing – this will only become completely clear when the data is less a stack. Also, you can almost not see the Tieck letters, suggesting that he has the least differentiated style.

This is an interesting aspect: our most popular author seems to have the most mainstream style. Tieck is also the person who occurs the most often in the whole edition. Is he a big author because he is able to deliver the flattest style? This is, naturally, based on the most frequent words and in that sense on a definition of style that can reasonably be discussed. But the most frequent words definitely tell us something, even if they obliterate the beauty and singularity and Romanticism of “Waldeinsamkeit”, Tieck’s most popular and seminal word creation. They still tell us something about German Romanticism. The two most frequent words in our corpus for instance: “and”, “I”. Aren’t German Romantic letters not all just about saying “and me, and me, and me” after all?

This is where I left that thread in July. Now I will be able to look deeper into these questions and continue thinking about network visualization, be it semantic or personal network. First, I will attend the conference on Historical Network Analysis in Ghent and then I will give a paper on “The net’s cross” in Hanover at the conference Scientia Quantitatis. And then the new term will be there…

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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