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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