University College Dublin (UCD) is one of the first colleges in Ireland to offer a module based solely on the computational analysis of literature. The Digital Approaches to Literature module, taught by Dr. Karen Wade, is an MA module which introduces students to the use of digital tools for analysing literature.
Utilizing digital tools such as Voyant for text analysis and Onodo for social network analysis, allows students to review a broad corpus of texts, and produce graphic visualisations of their results.
“One of the most important contributions of digital humanities to research, is that it enables us to examine texts which may have previously fallen under the scholarly radar, and ensures they are now readily available for researchers to access,” said Wade, who is the Digital Humanities Module Co-ordinator. “Similarly, this subject allows us to look under the bonnet of renowned novels, to ascertain whether there are new insights to be found”
This computationally-assisted approach permits students to carry out what is sometimes called “distant reading” or “macroanalysis” of up to one hundred novels and answer questions regarding themes, the use of language, the prominence of certain character types, and also enables us to geographically map the movement of characters in a novel.
The course is accessible to MA students with a wide range of abilities, from those who are accustomed to utilizing databases to complete novices. Wade also welcomes students with a background in Data Analytics / computer science, who may find literature compelling.
In recent years, there have been many digital humanities projects of great historical significance. UCD’s Industrial Memories project, headed by Associate Professor Emilie Pine, is an example of such a project, and is the collaborative joint effort of two prominent faculties, namely UCD School of English, Drama and Film and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.
This project was funded by the Irish Research Council, which reflects the fundamental importance of its topic to our cultural heritage. The study itself is based on examination of clerical abuse in Ireland in the early twentieth century.
It serves as a cultural reservoir which facilitates material accessibility to a plethora of readers. The resources available on this forum are inclusive of all relevant reports, witness statements from institutions, intergovernmental investigate reports and victim statements. Resources are also represented graphically, which highlight for us as an audience, the stark examples of clerical abuse which were prevalent at the time. The Transfer Graph is an example of this on the site.
This graph highlights the movement of abusive clergy members, who were transferred to new areas after allegedly sexually abusing minors, rather than being appropriately dismissed. This led to grave consequences, namely the spreading of abuse throughout the Irish residential care system.
User friendly tabs, and simplified explanations, are provided which facilitates ease of usage. The simplification of the Ryan Report documenting clerical abuse in Ireland, and the categorisation of witness accounts, ensures that this era of abuse remains ingrained in society’s memories.
Another useful tool to assist students with their research came with the creation of the Digital Platform for Contemporary Irish Writing website, as formulated by UCD Professor Margaret Kelleher in collaboration with the Museum of Literature Ireland.
This platform provides students, and other like-minded users, with a wealth of resources pertaining to the collections of each individual author. For example, Joyce Today showcases the various resources created in response to the work of James Joyce. Similarly, 50 Irish Books, another project on this platform, features 50 contemporary literature titles spanning from 2009 -2013. This project gives links to each of the books in question, alongside public interviews with the author, articles, and other relevant material.
The UCD Centre for Cultural Analytics, website is an example of a coherent research ecosystem with a plethora of resources available. It contains Digital Humanities projects which are broad ranging catering to a wide audience with varied interests.
Some examples include the Contagion Biopolitics and Culture project, which contains resources pertaining to cultural understanding of disease; the Irish Poetry reading archives, which serves as a repository holding recordings of Irish poets and writers; and the Nation Genre and Gender project, which analyses social networks in twentieth century Irish and English Fiction.
University College Dublin is one of the few colleges in Ireland to have embraced the amalgamation of data analytics and literary analysis to contribute to fundamentally important and culturally significant projects. Overall, the Digital Humanities Module offers an opportunity for potential students to analyse literature using the latest digital tools, and to engage with an emerging field of contemporary relevance.
Jessica McCarthy – Features Writer