Distant Reading for European Literary History

A few months ago, our COST Action Distant Reading for European Literary History (CA16204) was approved and started running. Even more recently, our Working Group ‘Scholarly Resources’, aka its corpus backbone, met in Prague, for the first time! We are very excited about getting started and would like to briefly report on our work in this blog.

The COST Action Distant Reading has the goal to “develop the resources and methods necessary to change the way European literary history is written” (Memorandum of Understanding). To approach this goal, the Action’s Working Group ‘Scholarly Resources’ aims to create a big open source benchmark corpus of novels from 1850-1920, called ELTeC (European Literary Text Collection). During the course of the Action, we will examine ELTeC with different computational distant reading methods such as topic modelling, authorship attribution, network analysis, stylistic analysis, and different types of character analysis.

The Action’s Working Group ‘Scholarly Resources’ will coordinate the task of creating the ELTeC; It consists of members from all over Europe, from literary studies, computational and corpus lingustics, and from information science. The COST Action is a great opportunity to collaboratively work with researchers and bring together expertise for different languages as well as computational methods.

A challenging task has been defining the corpus selection criteria, a common annotation model and potential workflows for corpus creation for the ELTeC which can be applied to European novels from different languages as well as various publication contexts.

During our first Working Group meeting, we developed corpus selection and balancing criteria which follow a simple but consistent corpus design approach and represent the variety of novels in this period. Among other things, we do not want to solely rely on normative canon-based selection criteria and set a bias to our understanding of novels. The focus of the ELTeC encoding scheme is to uniformly represent historical novels from different languages with a basic TEI mark-up. The standard markup is necessary for applying different types of distant reading methods rather than representing the original text structure. ELTeC and the encoding scheme will be freely available at our GitHub Organization.

In this way, we would like to contribute a big chunk to the creation of a digital basis for cross-national and cross-language analysis of European literature!


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