Notes from the conference Computational Text Analysis and Historical Change

Last week, Erik and Fredrik from WeStAc arranged the symposium “Computational Text Analysis and Historical Change” in Humlab, the digital humanities center at Umeå University. This interdisciplinary event gathered 15 speakers, including five keynotes, from 8 different countries. Some of the talks included concrete and hands-on examples of how to detect prejudices about race in American 19th century fiction, and how different weight measurements can reveal unknown topics in political debates. More importantly, the symposium generated valuable discussions on a more general level: How do we apply a “purposeful data modification” (to quote David Mimno’s keynote) in our research process? And, as Patricia Murrieta Flores rhetorically asked, how do we use computational methods of today to study space and place in texts from a historical time when space and place were understood in a completely different way? For us working with the WeStAc project we got a lot of inspiration and creative ideas, as well as hands on advices of what one should do (and not do) when engaging with large-scale text analysis methods.