Digital Text Analysis and Literary Theory

Course Code :2009FLWLIT
Study domain:Literature
Academic year:2019-2020
Semester:2nd semester
Contact hours:45
Study load (hours):168
Contract restrictions: No contract restriction
Language of instruction:Dutch
Exam period:exam in the 2nd semester
Lecturer(s)Mike Kestemont
Vanessa Joosen

3. Course contents *

Digital applications nowadays enable exciting and innovative research into literary texts. Anonymous authors can be unmasked using stylometry and through topic modelling, the main themes in large collections of text can automatically detected. In the international movement or community of Digital Humanities (DH), scholars investigate how literary studies can be supported or even enhanced using computational techniques. Although many literary scholars are convinced about the enormous potential of DH for literature, it is currently still unclear how this novel arsenal of techniques can be connected with with existing approaches or established theories. This tension gives rise to interesting debates which will be a central component within this course.

In 2017-2018 we use the series of Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling as a case study. An interesting aspect of Potter studies is the wide gap we find between the phenomenal success of Rowling with the larger audience on the one hand, and on the other, the fierce criticism which has been voiced by literary critics about these texts. Additionally, the novels are already the subject of a wide array of studies and interpretations, both by scholars and fans. What could DH still add to this? Surprisingly, children's and adolescent literature is still very much terra incognita in DH. On the basis of modern computational techniques, we will illustrate how digital applications allow to deepen our understanding of various aspects of Rowling studies. A representative sample of topics will be covered in the course:

  • text reuse detection, to study how the popular movie adaptations deviate from the original novels;
  • topic modelling, to understand how the (low) fantasy genre has been operationalized in the Potter-novels; 
  • text alignment, to model the differences between the American and British editions of the Harry Potter novels;
  • stylometry, to study the authorship of The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), a novel which Rowling secretly published under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith