Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Matt Jockers’ new book Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History is pretty fucking good. It balances number crunching explanations with a good sense of why they ought to matter. There’s also a consistent “step back from the edge” vibe that embraces the macro approach without losing sight of how important the micro/close reading approach.

One thing that Jockers mentions in passing a couple of times as he gets us up to speed is the importance of funding; in chapter 3, “Tradition” he notes that Canada’s system has put in the most money per capita to establish DH infrastructure. If I can be anecdotal about things, it’s a series of moments in the footnotes that reveal how much the “seek funding opportunities” approach functions as a key concern:

In 2008 I served on the inaugural panel reviewing applications for the jointly sponsored National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation “Digging into Data” grants. The expressed goals of the grant are to promote the development and deployment of innovative research techniques in large-scale data analysis (3).

In 2009 I was chair of the ADHO Bursary Awards committee. The prize is designed to encourage new scholars in the discipline (14).

From 2011 to 2012, I served as the project lead on “Phase Two” of the SEASR project. The work was generously funded by the Mellon Foundation (21).

During that time I was assisted by students enrolled in my Irish-American literature courses at Stanford and by graduate students employed as part of a grant I received from the Stanford Humanities Lab to fund the “Irish-American West” project (37).

The development and use of an adjective-based model for detecting sentiment alongside theme is a current idea of experimentation in a project of the Stanford Literary Lab that is funded by the Mellon Foundation (133).

In a work sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, this process was later formalized by Loretta Auvil and Boris Capitanu as a SEASR workflow (134).

Here comes the anecdotal part. If and when I read an academic piece of research, I tend to read the acknowledgments, the index, and the footnotes/notes more than the body. This makes me a kind of lazy reader, but if I want to make an anecdotal argument, it’s solid gold. While there’s always a mention or seven of funding in the acknowledgments, I can’t for the life of me recall seeing a mention, much less a half-dozen mentions of funding sources in the body of a book. It may well be that I’ve been reading Luddites who do things on the cheap and thus don’t need to bring up such things. But I’m intrigued by how (comparatively) frequently Jockers brings up where the funding comes from. The sense that DH is a surrender to the neoliberal project comes through most powerfully in these footnotes. Mind you, I’m not tarring Jockers with that; he is careful to note how important the usual arsenal of literary studies is as a companion to macroanalysis, and that macro cannot do the whole job. But it bears noting that there’s a consistent “gold in them thar hills” undercurrent to the footnotes – the place where messages to fellow academics tend to come through most clearly.

The poor quality of the video testifies to the major problem macroanalysis faces for schmucks like me: copyright issues on anything post-1923. Jockers’ final chapter is perhaps the best in the book in that it balances excitement for what macroanalysis offers with a sense of how many problems it faces from eternal copyright.

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Because someone has to win one of the NEH Fellowships, and I didn’t see any NZ/Australia-based winners from the last few years, I put together an application. According to the NEH, applying for the fellowship has an eight percent chance of success. Seeing as how I have lived through a once-in-a-lifetime series of earthquakes and I’m moving to a place that has gone through once-every 100/50/etc floods, I will take comfrot in the gambler’s fallacy. The narrative section of my application:

“The World Atlas of American Cinema, 1927-2000” combines digital cartography with close readings of representative films to write a history of twentieth century American sound narrative cinema at the intersection of the geographies of narrative location, production, consumption and taste. The Atlas project will reorient and redraw the boundaries of film history both literally and figuratively by cataloguing films’ narrative locations on digital maps to examine where we mean when we say “American cinema.” Does American cinema mean a movie set in contemporary suburban Los Angeles, 1970s New York, a mid-century Midwestern small town, a Gilded Age Wild West town, a Civil War plantation, all of the above, or none of the above? Has American cinema meant the same narrative locations throughout its history? Where are the privileged – and invisible – narrative locations in American cinema? Film has from its beginnings been a major part of urban – and increasingly suburban – life, in theatres, nickelodeons, picture palaces, and multiplexes. As film exhibition has migrated, have film settings migrated as well? Do the films that make up the top twenty box office, year-end awards lists, and film studies syllabi describe the same country?

To answer these questions, the Atlas will first approach American narrative cinema as a massive data set. I will use the American Film Institute Catalog indices, and observation, to collect data on the major narrative locations for films found in the yearly top-twenty of domestic box office list, on prestige lists such as the Oscars, and in undergraduate film studies course syllabi. I will then superimpose this cinema-location data onto maps of contemporary demographic, economic, political and industrial data taken from, among other sources, US Census data and the National Association of Theater Owners’ yearly Encyclopedia of Exhibition. The Atlas will expand the work of digital humanities, one of the critical new areas for humanities research in the twenty-first century, by tracing the interactions of American cinema’s narrative locations and the historical-contextual maps of the American century will reveal previously invisible connections – and gaps – in the popular, critical, and academic geography of Hollywood film, will provide the impetus for more focused attention to the particular locations of American identity as reflected in the films that Americans watch, admire, and study.

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The Sumner Hollywood 3’s current lineup of films is a weird bunch, but one that says a load about cinema-going in our sleepy little beachbums-families-and-immigrant-professionals village. In some ways this set of films is a nice indication of what the local movie house turned into after the quakes shrank the number of cinemas in Christchurch considerably. You have your Film For Distinguished British Actors (Quartet), a couple of French art films (A Lady in Paris and Rust and Bone) a straight-ahead art flick (Samsara), a movie to bring the kids and families in (The Croods) and a couple of Hollywood flicks (Lincoln and Hyde Park on the Hudson).

Image I would be delinquent in my forthcoming-book-flogging if I did not notice that the only two live action Hollywood films are fictional films about US presidents. What, exactly, is the appeal of a film about FDR or Abe to a New Zealand audience, for the immigrants who outnumber Americans in Christchurch? What would bring a New Zealander into the auditorium? By way of comparison, The Queen did OK box office in the US, but it still finished behind such offerings as Scary Movie 4, The Santa Clause 3, Jackass Number Two, The Pink Panther, Saw III, Big Momma’s House 2, Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, and Underworld Evolution – and that’s just a sampling of the sequels. I can’t imagine the usual crowd at Classic Cinemas Cinema 12 lining up to see a film about FDR’s contemporaries Michael Savage or Peter Fraser.