Call for Applications: Summer Institute in Digital Textual Studies (National Humanities Center)

3 Nov 2014

The first of the National Humanities Center’s summer institutes in digital humanities, devoted to digital textual studies, will convene for two one-week sessions, first in June 2015 and again in 2016. The objective of this Institute is to develop participants’ technological and scholarly imaginations and to combine them into a powerful investigative instrument. Led by Willard McCarty and Matthew Jockers, the Institute aims to further the development of individual as well as collaborative projects in literary and textual studies.


The Institute will focus on the problematic intersection of textual humanities and digital computing and will emphasize the transformative effects of each upon the other. It will involve both reasoning about text with digital tools and constructing tools to extend the scope and depth of reading. Moving recursively from formulating questions to experimental probing of text, the Institute will be both theoretically and practically oriented. Through direct practical work, participants will be able to engage with and analyze new styles of reasoning offered to the humanities by digital computing. This engagement will involve participants in a struggle to bring together the logic and formal language of computing with modes of reading and questioning traditional to the humanities without dilution of either.

The Institute is conceived as theoretically agnostic and unrestricted as to language, disciplinary approach or historical period; close attention to text and/or to data derived from textual corpora will serve as the basis for theorization. Among other topics, participants will be asked to reflect on what is now possible in digital textual studies and what is not, and on the means by which the traditional strengths of thehumanities—development of interpretive skills and critical evaluation; sensitivity to historical context; and close observation ofparticularities—might enhance computational approaches to cultural phenomena. The Institute’s conveners aim to make explicit the questions that humanities scholars ask, before translating them into actionable manipulations and explorations of data at both the small and large scales (a.k.a. close and distant reading). By transforming these data into multiple forms and formats, it is hoped that new patterns and insights will emerge along with new means of communicating these insights through an indefinitely flexible medium.

Unlike many summer schools and camps in digital humanities, the Institute is not primarily concerned with technological training, rather it aims at developing a hands-on, practically oriented technological imagination. Tools change, methods come and go. Much impressive work has been done and can be done, but in comparison to the demands of research in the interpretative disciplines, the power of digital humanities is mostly potential. So much remains to be discovered, invented and put to the test that only the scholar with a technologically educated imagination will be able to remain a productive participant in the digital aspects of his or her research. Hence the problem that the Institute is dedicated to address.