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Distant Readings

Distant Readings: Topologies of German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century

Matt Erlin
Lynne Tatlock
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    Distant Readings
    Book Description:

    In nineteenth-century Germany, breakthroughs in printing technology and an increasingly literate populace led to an unprecedented print production boom that has long presented scholars with a challenge: how to read it all? This anthology seeks new answers to the scholarly quandary of the abundance of text. Responding to Franco Moretti's call for "distant reading" and modeling a range of innovative approaches to literary-historical analysis informed by the burgeoning field of digital humanities, it asks what happens when we shift our focus from the one to the many, from the work to the network. The thirteen essays in this volume explore the evolving concept of "distant reading" and its application to the analysis of German literature and culture in the long nineteenth century. The contributors consider how new digital technologies enable both the testing of hypotheses and the discovery of patterns and trends, as well as how "distant" and traditional "close" reading can complement each another in hybrid models of analysis that maintain careful attention to detail, but also make calculation, enumeration, and empirical description critical elements of interpretation. Contributors: Kirsten Belgum, Tobias Boes, Matt Erlin, Fotis Jannidis and Gerhard Lauer, Lutz Koepnick, Todd Kontje, Peter M. McIsaac, Katja Mellmann, Nicolas Pethes, Andrew Piper and Mark Algee-Hewitt, Allen Beye Riddell, Lynne Tatlock, Paul A. Youngman and Ted Carmichael. Matt Erlin is Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, and Lynne Tatlock is Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, both at Washington University, St. Louis.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-890-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: “Distant Reading” and the Historiography of Nineteenth-Century German Literature
    (pp. 1-26)
    Matt Erlin and Lynne Tatlock

    The sense that printed matter was piling up was not new in the nineteenth century, even if the piles were higher. In 1494, practically at the dawn of the first print revolution in Europe, Sebastian Brant for one had pilloried the spread of heresy aided by printers who, motivated by profit, “Vil drucken / wenig corrigyeren.”¹ The total output of 1494 was, however, but a fraction of what yearly production was to become. Approximately three centuries after Brant’s complaint (i.e., in the time period of interest in this volume), breakthroughs in printing technologies were helping to fuel another boom, far...

  5. I: Quantification

    • 1: Burrows’s Delta and Its Use in German Literary History
      (pp. 29-54)
      Fotis Jannidis and Gerhard Lauer

      Literary history offers a guide to the canon of great books. It matters little whether one picks up a history of literature from the nineteenth century or a modern one; they all tend to more or less salvage a small collection of books from the ocean of those published. For the year 1809, for example, any given history of German literature will highlight Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novelDie Wahlverwandtschaften(Elective Affinities), as if no other work of literature had been published that year. This is the case regardless of whether one consults Hermann Hettner’s literary history from 1870 or...

    • 2: The Location of Literary History: Topic Modeling, Network Analysis, and the German Novel, 1731–1864
      (pp. 55-90)
      Matt Erlin

      In looking over the contents of some of the leading journals in the field of German studies, one cannot help but be struck by the transformation that has taken place since roughly the 1970s. The articles in these journals reflect an extraordinary plurality of interests: postcolonial studies, gender studies, memory studies, psychoanalysis, narratology, and systems theory are all represented, as are many more approaches. In addition, remarkable progress has been made to open up the canon and expand the range of objects of inquiry to include film and nonliterary texts. One finds articles on the photographer Florian Profitlich and the...

    • 3: How to Read 22,198 Journal Articles: Studying the History of German Studies with Topic Models
      (pp. 91-114)
      Allen Beye Riddell

      In the past decade, research libraries have digitized their holdings, making a vast collection of scanned books, newspapers, and other texts conveniently accessible. While these collections present obvious opportunities for historical research, the task of exploring the contents of thousands of texts presents a challenge. This chapter introduces a family of methods, often called topic models, that can be used to explore very large collections of texts. Researchers using these methods may be found not only in computer science, statistics, and computational linguistics but also increasingly in the human and social sciences in fields such as women’s history, political science,...

    • 4: Serial Individuality: Eighteenth-Century Case Study Collections and Nineteenth-Century Archival Fiction
      (pp. 115-132)
      Nicolas Pethes

      In 1809, literary authors were already well aware that they had entered the century of distant reading and writing. As Jean Paul remarks in the preface to his novelDr. Katzenbergers Badereise(Dr. Katzenberger’s Voyage to the Bath, 1809), “Mit den Taschenkalendern und Zeitschriften müssen die kleinen vermischten Werkchen so zunehmen—weil die Schriftsteller jene mit den besten Beiträgen zu unterstützen haben—, daß man am Ende kaum ein großes mehr schreibt. Selber der Verfasser dieses Werks (obwohl noch manches großen) ist in acht Zeitschriften und fünf Kalendern ansässig mit kleinen Niederlassungen und liegenden Gründen.”¹

      This brief description provides an...

    • 5: The Case for Close Reading after the Descriptive Turn
      (pp. 133-152)
      Todd Kontje

      In a frequently cited article published in 2000, Franco Moretti envisions a future literary history that will step back from close readings of individual texts to gain a distant perspective on the system of literature in its entirety. “The United States is the country of close reading,” Moretti concedes, “so I don’t expect this idea to be particularly popular.” He nevertheless proposes a new type of literary analysis whose innovative boldness will be “directly proportionalto the distance from the text: the more ambitious the project, the greater must the distance be.”¹

      Over the past decade Moretti has begun to...

  6. II: Circulation

    • 6: The Werther Effect I: Goethe, Objecthood, and the Handling of Knowledge
      (pp. 155-184)
      Andrew Piper and Mark Algee-Hewitt

      Our current project seeks to develop new ways of understanding the relationship between the novel and late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century writing by focusing on one of the most popular novels of the period, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’sDie Leiden des jungen Werthers(The Sorrows of Young Werther; 1774/1787). With the steep rise of printed writing in the eighteenth century, epistolary novels like Goethe’sWerther, Samuel Richardson’sPamela, or Jean Jacques Rousseau’sJuliebecame landmarks of the new vibrancy of the publishing industry. They were some of the most persuasive signs of an emerging commercial literary modernity.¹ As a fictional...

    • 7: Rethinking Nonfiction: Distant Reading the Nineteenth-Century Science-Literature Divide
      (pp. 185-208)
      Peter M. McIsaac

      This chapter explores what computer-based techniques of distant reading and information visualization can reveal about the publishing programs of nineteenth-century mainstream weekly and monthly periodicals such asDie Gartenlaube(The Garden Bower),Westermann’s Illustrirte Monatshefte(Westermann’s Illustrated Monthly),Daheim(At Home), andDeutsche Rundschau(German Review), and their place in German life and letters. As scholars have stressed for some time, these periodicals represented some of post-1848 Germany’s most widely read print material. Though publishing in general experienced major expansions in the latter half of the nineteenth century, mainstream periodicals rose even faster than books in terms of their circulation....

    • 8: Distant Reception: Distant Reception: Bringing German Books to America
      (pp. 209-228)
      Kirsten Belgum

      Cultures rarely operate in isolation. They are in contact with impulses from many directions and in many ways. But what do we know about how this happens? How can we assess the significance and processes of the transfer between cultures? I am particularly interested in German-American cultural exchange in the first third of the nineteenth century, before the waves of German immigrants came to the United States, because this encounter was launched and sustained mostly by Americans who had no German ancestry. Their lack of German experience or knowledge of the German language raises the question of what German culture...

    • 9: The One and the Many: The Old Mam’selle’s Secret and the American Traffic in German Fiction (1868–1917)
      (pp. 229-256)
      Lynne Tatlock

      In 1901, Edith Wyatt’s short story “A Matter of Taste” offered a snapshot of American reading predilections by means of the book that stands at the center of my investigation in this chapter. Here, an Anglo-American brother and sister view one another’s reading with incomprehension. The pretentious Henry reads foreign literature about the Italian Renaissance to his bored sister, Elsie. Elsie, who, the narrator notes with a thrust at the snobbish Henry, has no “Standard,” longs instead for the pleasures of reading E. Marlitt’sThe Old Mam’selle’s Secret.¹ In her preference for Marlitt, Elsie shares the taste of her friend...

  7. III: Contextualization

    • 10: The Vocations of the Novel: Distant-Reading Occupational Change in Nineteenth-Century German Literature
      (pp. 259-284)
      Tobias Boes

      Within the field of German studies as it has come to being in the United States, narrative prose fiction of the period from 1848 to 1914 has always presented a special disciplinary challenge. Unlike Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, writers like Gottfried Keller and Berthold Auerbach, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer and Wilhelm Raabe, Adalbert Stifter, and even Theodor Fontane have never become household names in America, and their works are now rarely taught outside of survey courses. Nevertheless, academic critics long ago recognized that narrative prose plays an important role in shaping the collective consciousness of...

    • 11: Big Data, Pattern Recognition, and Literary Studies: N-Gramming the Railway in Nineteenth-Century German Fiction
      (pp. 285-300)
      Paul A. Youngman and Ted Carmichael

      In a talk given at an National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute (2011) on advanced topics in the digital humanities, philosopher of science Paul Humphreys suggested that as soon as machines could create knowledge, a point in time he traces back to the launch of ENIAC in 1946, the distinction between the humanities and other fields of academic endeavor was rendered tenuous at best and probably even eliminated.¹ One can, of course, quibble with Humphrey’s use of the wordknowledgewhen it comes to the data produced by computers. One can even take issue with using ENIAC as...

    • 12: “Detoured Reading”: Understanding Literature through the Eyes of Its Contemporaries (A Case Study on Anti-Semitism in Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben)
      (pp. 301-332)
      Katja Mellmann

      The particular procedure of distant reading that I want to introduce here by the name of “detoured reading” is in some respects so self-evident that it does not really seem to require programmatic advocates. Indeed, my suggestion is fairly simple: research and carefully analyze as many documents of reception as can be found on a particular work of literature in order to get an impression of how the work was understood by its contemporaries before hypothesizing about the literary work’s meaning and significance.

      As self-evident as this approach may seem, it is rarely actually practiced. Literary historians, so far, have...

    • 13: Can Computers Read?
      (pp. 333-346)
      Lutz Koepnick

      To offer possible answers to the question—“Can Computers Read?”—is to ask for trouble. Most of us have strong feelings about acceptable responses, less for philosophical reasons than because possible answers might deeply affect the future of our institutional existence as scholars and critics. Similar to the binary logic of computing at its most basic level, either a categorical “no” or a triumphant “yes” will be expected as the only viable answer, and whatever positions one develops will be applauded or rebuffed because they will challenge fundamental beliefs about what we do as academics and how we envision our...

  8. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 347-370)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 371-374)
  10. Index
    (pp. 375-386)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 387-387)