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Critical Digital HumanitiesThe Search for a Methodology$
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James E. Dobson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042270

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042270.001.0001

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Can an Algorithm Be Disturbed?

Can an Algorithm Be Disturbed?

Machine Learning, Intrinsic Criticism, and the Digital Humanities

Chapter:
(p.32) Chapter 2 Can an Algorithm Be Disturbed?
Source:
Critical Digital Humanities
Author(s):

James E. Dobson

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5622/illinois/9780252042270.003.0002

This chapter positions the use of machine learning within the digital humanities as part of a wider movement that nostalgically seeks to return literary criticism to the structuralist era, to a moment characterized by belief in systems, structure, and the transparency of language. While digital methods enable one to examine radically larger archives than those assembled in the past, a transformation that Matthew Jockers characterizes as a shift from micro to macroanalysis, the fundamental assumptions about texts and meaning implicit in these tools and in the criticism resulting from the use of these tools belong to a much earlier period of literary analysis. The author argues that the use of imported tools and procedures within literary and cultural criticism on the part of some digital humanists in the present is an attempt to separate methodology from interpretation. In the process, these critics have deemphasized the degree to which methodology participates in interpretation. The chapter closes by way of a return to the deconstructive critique of structuralism in order to highlight the ways in which numerous interpretive decisions are suppressed in the selection, encoding, and preprocessing of digitized textual sources for text mining and machine learning analysis.

Keywords:   Structuralism, subjectivity, openness, literary hermeneutics, surface reading, topic modelling, models, themes, unsupervised, supervised, machine learning

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