This guest post, written by Monika Barget, project manager at the Centre for Digital Humanities, Maynooth University, Ireland, reports on one of the two recent Distant Reading Training Schools that were held at the inaugural European Association for Digital Humanities Conference in Galway, Ireland.
Two of my colleagues from Maynooth University and I attended the COST Action Training Schools at the EADH 2018 conference in Galway. While one of us signed up for the theory sessions, discussing different approaches to ‘style’ in the digital humanities, an early career researcher in Early Irish and I (currently working as project manager in Digital Humanities) attended the sessions on methods and tools of ‘Distant Reading’. Our workshop group was very international and brought people from various disciplines together. Most of us had only recently started to extensively use digital tools for data/text analysis and had limited programming experience. That was why the step-by-step introductions to different technology-supported methods of topic modelling, stylometry, and data visualisation were a perfect fit. We were introduced to downloadable software with elaborate graphic user interfaces (e.g. TXM and Gephi) as well as portable software (Dariah Topics Explorer) in development and a stylometry tool based on R-libraries, which required working in the command line.
The corpora chosen by the workshop facilitators were mainly selections of British fiction, the North-American Brown Corpus and some smaller fiction corpora in other European languages (French, Italian, Hungarian, Slovene). For me as a historian specialising in visual cultures and politics of the early modern period, these were uncommon sources, but at the end of most workshop sessions, I had some time to apply each method and tool to my own corpora (e.g. a collection of political letters from Ireland). The workshop facilitators made sure that all participants were able to keep step and competently answered our questions. As not all methods and tools presented to us will, however, be equally relevant to our future research, additional ‘experimental time’ to work with just one of the methods/tools in smaller groups on the last workshop day would have been even more beneficial. There was a lot to take in, and a longer supervised ‘lab’ session focusing on a chosen method and my own material would also have aided me to process and practice what I had learned. In this way, the instructors, too, could have received more in-depth feedback, especially in those cases where their tools were still being updated and improved.
Nonetheless, the overall timing of the workshop suited me very well as we had the opportunity to connect with other participants during coffee breaks, lunch, and in the evenings. It was interesting to hear how other scholars at a similar career level were going to use topic modelling, stylometry, or network analysis in their projects, and I learned a lot about the institutional frameworks and digital cultures in other universities. Finally, the vivid keynote lecture delivered by Prof. Christof Schöch was a convenient occasion to sit back and reflect on some of the overarching challenges behind digital literary analysis. I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend the COST Action Training School and will recommend it to my peers.