Vertical Seminar in the Humanities gives professors, students new analysis tools

Technology is revolutionizing more than just how we shop, communicate and entertain ourselves. It is also changing how humanists analyze texts in a growing field called the digital humanities.

Now, scholars of literature and history can take thousands of digitized texts and use a variety of computational tools to engage in what some have called distant reading, a supplement to the close analyses that long have formed the basis of literary criticism or historical inquiry.

They can track word usage, spelling changes, publication patterns, the rise of a genre or the development of an idea. Programs even analyze an author’s style based on, for example, the number of times he or she uses a certain word.

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Joseph Loewenstein, PhD, director of the Humanities Digital Workshop and the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities, is leading a “vertical seminar” to help senior and junior faculty, postdoctoral students, graduate students and staff better understand the digital humanities and use its techniques. (Credit: SID Hastings/WUSTL Photos)

For Basu, the seminar offers a chance for scholars to see their field or research question in a new light, by interacting with people from different disciplines and using new techniques to analyze familiar material.

“That wonderful dissociative alignment doesn’t happen in a normal seminar format where you don’t have such widely different perspectives,” Basu said.

“Sometimes you have someone discovering a new thing they can do that they haven’t thought of before, or that they didn’t know was possible before,” Basu said. “And in any sort of seminar or class, that’s the best thing you can have.”