‘Hacking at Books’ digital humanities forum is Feb. 7

Provocative questions about what we know — and think we know — about the humanities and how new digital tools in humanities research might reveal surprising gaps in our understanding will be addressed at a lecture and reception on Feb. 7 at the Great Plains Art Museum. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Speakers Ted Underwood, associate professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Tanya Clement, assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, will talk about their groundbreaking research, which uses computational methods to uncover new insights into literature and literary history.

Underwood’s talk, “How Well Do We Understand Literary History?,” challenges the common notion that the literary history of Britain and North America between 1700 and 1900, thoroughly studied for decades, is well understood. His argument for this emerges from surprising results of his research, which involves searching and analyzing hundreds of thousands of digitized books. Such “data mining” demonstrates that we still lack a stable understanding of basic literary concepts like “genre” or “poetic diction” or even “literature” itself.

Clement’s talk, “Sound Seeings, or High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship,” reveals the emerging digital approaches for research and preservation of audio recordings. Hundreds of thousands of spoken text audio files — including poetry readings, Native American stories and presidential speeches — remain untapped in archives throughout the world. Clement is part of a team developing original computational tools that help us visualize and understand our sound culture in new ways. Rather than solely fixating on written text, these projects bring tone, rhythm and other auditory clues to the table, potentially enabling a range of new revelations.

These lectures are part of a two-day event, “Hacking at Books: The Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities,” an annual, thematic exploration of issues in digital humanities at UNL (a reinvention of the Nebraska Digital Workshop, which has been held annually since 2006).

For more information, go to http://go.unl.edu/mjj.