“What Everyone Says About the Humanities” Research Project

The 4Humanities WhatEvery1Says research project is collecting a corpus of public discourse about the humanities (in newspapers, magazines, blogs, reports intended for the public or legislatures, etc.) and analyzing that corpus with digital text-analysis methods.

Our hypothesis is that digital methods can help us learn new things about how media pundits, politicians, business leaders, administrators, scholars, students, artists, and others are actually thinking about the humanities. For example, are there sub-themes beneath the familiar dominant clichés and memes? Are there hidden connections or mismatches between the “frames” (premises, metaphors, and narratives) of those arguing for and against the humanities? How do different parts of the world or different kinds of speakers compare in the way they think about the humanities? Instead of concentrating on set debates and well-worn arguments, can we exploit new approaches or surprising commonalities to advocate for the humanities in the 21st century?”

We hope to use findings from the WhatEvery1Says project to provide advocates for the humanities with strategies and materials for effective communication of the value of humanistic study and knowledge–with narratives, arguments, scenarios, and evidence that advance, rather than simply react to, public conversation on the place of the humanities in today’s world.

The WhatEvery1Says research team aims to produce the following:

  • WhatEvery1Says Corpus (in progress) — 4Humanities is gathering discourse about the humanities from many sources to create a corpus of arguments about the humanities that can be studied using a variety of methods (including computational text analysis and visualization). Currently, we are using algorithmic data harvesting methods to collect materials from newspapers and magazines (e.g., those whose digitized archives available through APIs or other means. We have also started a collection of crowdsourced and manually selected materials. Jump to worksheet for contributing items to the “What Everyone Says About the Humanities Corpus” (editable Google spreadsheet)!
  • Topic Model (in progress) — Using topic-modelling and related digital text-analysis methods, 4Humanities is identifying in the corpus key “themes” or clusters of terms associated with the humanities as they occur in different discourse streams (public journalistic media, political speeches, government policy statements, academic research, academic program or department sites, scholarly blogs, etc.). We hypothesize that we can discover “value” clusters (associated with the core values of the humanities as humanists and others perceive them) and related “frame” clusters (recurrent narrative settings, scenarios, scripts used to talk about the humanities–e.g., the “parents worrying about their child getting a job” script). The goal is to discover implicit values and frames beyond those that media pundits or humanists themselves think are the obvious ones, and also to locate where the matches and mismatches are between different viewpoints.
  • Research Outputs — Research outputs of the WhatEvery1Says project will take the form of online posts on the 4Humanities site, the creation of a browseable interface for the corpus, and scholarly articles.
  • Advocacy Outputs — The final, action-oriented aim of the WhatEvery1Says project will be an “action matrix” for humanities advocacy that 4Humanities will keep in a Web-accessible database. This database (probably implemented through a content management system) will serve as a structured resource of themes and associated narratives, evidence, and metaphors for effective communication about the humanities that can be drawn upon by any local or national humanities advocacy effort. 4Humanities also hopes to produce a set of media and activism scripts, flow-charts, templates, and other materials (including open-source textual and visual materials) to help local campaigns design and implement advocacy for the humanities. For example, action scripts could be of the sort, “If you are fighting these kinds of criticisms of the humanities, then try the following sequence of arguments, drawing on some of the following evidence, statistics, and testimonials.”
  • Open, Shareable, Replicable Digital Humanities Methodology — WE1S’s manifest schema for data-provenance and processing-steps tracking, its integrated workflow management and virtual environment tools, and its topic-model interpretation protocol suggest a generalizable open approach–one that WE1S will make available to other digital humanists engaged in research involving machine learning at data-extensive scales.

How You Can Contribute

Suggest materials for our “What Everyone Says About the Humanities Corpus” (perfect for “5-minute activism”!)

The important first step in the 4Humanities What Everyone Says About the Humanities Research Project is to collect a large and varied corpus of discourse about the humanities. Please help us collect materials for our corpus (digitized materials where possible). For this purpose, we define “humanities” loosely so that it includes humanities and arts and also “liberal arts” in the academy. Materials we are seeking include, but are not limited to:

  • Older, 20th-century, and contemporary statements about the humanities.
  • Statements about the humanities from all over the world.
  • Arguments pro, con, descriptive, and analytical about the humanities.
  • Public media commentary about the humanities.
  • Political speeches or position statements about the humanities.
  • Government policy papers, legislation, etc., dealing with the humanities.
  • Scholars’ or university administrators’ speeches, writings, blogs, etc. about the humanities.
  • Language about the humanities in university, humanities-center, department, and other programmatic units.

Jump to worksheet for contributing items to the “What Is Everyone Saying About the Humanities Corpus” (editable Google spreadsheet)

Volunteer to help us analyze the corpus through text-analysis, visualization, and any other means that interest you (including critical analysis and close reading)

We’ll need time and help to harvest the text from collected materials and prepare it for study. But then we can use help from those with experience in a variety of text-mining, visualization, and other analytical methods. Long lead time; no rigorous deadlines; volunteer now!

The WhatEvery1Says Research Team

  • Alan Liu (English Dept., UCSB), Project Lead
  • Scott Kleinman (English Dept., California State U. Northridge)
  • Lindsay Thomas (English Dept., Clemson U.)

Research Assistants:

  • Zach Horton (English Dept., UCSB)
  • Alex Kulick (Sociology Dept., UCSB)
  • Patrick Mooney (English Dept., UCSB)

4Humanities is an international advocacy initiative for the humanities that is “powered by the digital humanities community.” 4humanities.org

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