Digging into Data Challenge (http://www.diggingintodata.org/)

Commonplace Cultures: Mining Shared Passages in the 18th Century using Sequence Alignment and Visual Analytics

Period: 2014 – 2015

News Story: UChicagoNews

Project description:

In many ways, the 18th century can be seen as one of the last in a long line of “commonplace cultures” extending from Antiquity through the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that the various rhetorical, mnemonic, and authorial practices associated with commonplacing—the thematic organization of quotations and other passages for later recall and reuse—were highly effective strategies for dealing with the perceived “information overload” of the period, as well as for functioning successfully in polite society. But, the 18th century was also a crucial moment in the modern construction of a new sense of self-identity, defined through the dialectic of memory (tradition) and autonomy (originality), the resonances of which persist long into the 19th century and beyond.

Our goal in this project is to explore this paradigm shift in 18th-century print culture from the perspective of commonplaces and through their textual and historical deployment in the various contexts of collecting, reading, writing, classifying, and learning. These practices allowed individuals to master a collective literary culture through the art of commonplacing, a nexus of intertextual activities that we uncover through the use of sequence alignment algorithms to compile a database of potential commonplaces drawn from the massive ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) collection provided to us by Gale Cengage. The ECCO corpus, which comprises some 200,000 volumes of texts published in England from 1700 to 1800, represents the most complete and comprehensive archive of 18th-century print culture available.