In a new post, Ted Underwood discusses a paper he co-authored for the IEEE “big humanities” workshop that is now available on arXiv as a preprint. He also reviews some questions that arose after the paper was presented regarding the use of first-person narration and gender. According to Underwood, “The paper argues that the blurry mutability of genres is actually a strong argument for a digital approach to their history.”
If we could start from some consensus list of categories, it would be easy to crowdsource the history of genre: we’d each take a list of definitions and fan out through the archive. But centuries of debate haven’t yet produced stable definitions of genre. In that context, the advantage of algorithmic mapping is that it can be comprehensive and provisional at the same time. If you change your mind about underlying categories, you can just choose a different set of training examples and hit “run” again. In fact we may never need to reach a consensus about definitions in order to have an interesting conversation about the macroscopic history of genre.