Announcements Faculty & Staff Research

Melanie Walsh Receives NEH DH Advancement Grant

Congratulations to iSchool Professor and Textual Studies faculty Melanie Walsh, who has received a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities!

Walsh is a co-project director with Matthew Wilkens and David Mimno from the Department of Information Science at Cornell University. Their project, “BERT for Humanists,” will develop case studies about and professional development workshops on the use of BERT (bidirectional encoder representations from transformers) for humanities scholars and students interested in large-scale text analysis.

We asked Walsh to tell us a little more about BERT, and how AI and machine reading are and will be pertinent for literary and humanistic study. She kindly provided us with the following response.

Large language models (LLMs) like Google’s BERT and OpenAI’s GPT-3 can now generate text, answer questions, summarize documents, and translate between languages—both human and programming—with levels of accuracy and quality that have never been seen before. Most recently, in November 2022, OpenAI released a chatbot called ChatGPT, built on the slightly revised GPT-3.5 model, which launched the impressive capabilities and concerning limitations of LLMs into the public eye like no model had before. 

The BERT for Humanists project, which received an NEH Level I Digital Humanities Advancement Grant in 2021 and an NEH Level III Digital Humanities Advancement Grant in 2023, seeks to make LLMs accessible to humanities scholars so that they can better use, understand, and critique them. The project explores how these technologies, which have revolutionized the field of natural language processing (NLP), might be applied to humanistic text collections and enable scholars to answer humanistic research questions. For example, LLMs can potentially be used to trace how literary genres change over time, analyze how fictional characters interact with each other, or identify and track migration patterns from the locations mentioned in historical documents. 

However, there are serious barriers to humanities scholars adopting these technologies in their work and other challenges and concerns. The texts that we study in the humanities are often trickier and more complex than the texts used and studied in NLP contexts — humanistic texts are typically longer, more archaic, and more ambiguous — and NLP tools are not typically designed with humanities scholars’ skillsets or use cases in mind. Plus there are many other ethical, social, and legal questions that have been raised by these models, such as their well-documented biases or their potential to harm living people. For example, LLMs are “trained” on billions of texts and images scraped from the web, which includes the works of living artists and writers, who are not notified, credited, or compensated for their work. These technologies may consequently harm, exploit, and displace living artists. The BERT for Humanists project thus seeks to bridge the technical gap between LLMs and the humanities, but also to inform and empower humanities scholars so that they can appropriately critique these models and fully understand their flaws and limitations.  

Announcements Faculty & Staff Research

Hannah Frydman wins the Larry Schehr Memorial Award

Crossposted from French & Italian Studies.

At the end of last quarter, Assistant Professor of French Hannah Frydman won the Larry Schehr Memorial Award for the best essay at the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium by an untenured PhD within the first six years since receiving the degree for her essay, “Confidences épistolaires de la Vénus publique’: Le Figaro’s Petite Correspondance and the Business and Pleasure of Sharing Private Messages in Public.” Professor Frydman also presented her paper as part of a panel on “Women Readers” at the 47th Annual Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium in New York City in November of 2022.

Frydman says the essay came “out of my interest in the history of inexpensive newspaper advertising and the way it allowed ordinary people to communicate privately in public to a variety of different ends.” In working to finish revising her book manuscript, Between the Sheets: Classified Advertising, Sexuality, and the Moral Threat to Press Freedom in France, she realized that there were some things in the pre-history of the story she was telling that she didn’t know.

Research led her to a personal ad column created in 1875 in the daily newspaper Le Figaro called the petite correspondance that was critiqued for facilitating adultery and sexual commerce because it allowed people to correspond anonymously via newspaper (for a fee), rather than having to write directly to someone they should not, but it was also incredibly popular with readers who enjoyed reading strangers’ (supposedly real) private missives. Frydman notes it’s “interesting to try to think about as a precursor to social media and its “own monetization of our making the intimate very public.”

 In her essay, Frydman traces the brief but consequential life of the petites correspondances in order to argue for “its importance in the intertwined history of press and sexuality.”  Frydman shows how they introduced a “form of exhibitionism and voyeurism into the press in the very years that witnessed the buildup of fears about the spread of pornography and the conception of new laws freeing the press.” In this climate she writes “moral critiques led to the closure of the column after a few years, but its monetization of a voyeuristic experience of reading the “real” sexual intrigues of anonymous others was to have a long afterlife.”

 The research for this essay and for her work more broadly is threaded throughout two courses she will be teaching this year, FRENCH 223: Sex, Commerce and the Making of Modern Paris, which explores how sex and commerce together shaped ideas about Paris and the city’s topography, and FRENCH 447: Queer Histories and Fictions, on histories and fictions of non-normative sexuality, which also explores the “business and pleasure” of reading potentially real fictions. For Textual Studies, she will also be teaching core course TXTDS 403: Archives, Data and Databases: Thinking with Archives (offered jointly with FRENCH 435) in Autumn 2023.

Announcements Faculty & Staff

TXTDS-Affiliated Faculty Receive Course Development Funding

First published Friday, December 16, 2022. Edited Tuesday, December 20 to reflect change to ITAL 262 offer quarter.

The UW Translation Studies Hub has made their 2022-2023 academic year goal to increase translation literacy across the course offerings at the university, making translation literacy a priority in the undergraduate curriculum. Two French & Italian Studies and Textual Studies Program faculty were granted $250 in research funding via the Simpson Center to develop translation-focused modules for existing courses.

For the course “Sex, Commerce, and the Making of Modern Paris” (FRENCH 223), taught next in Winter 2023, French Professor Hannah Frydman will create a new course module which introduces students to analyzing primary sources (in English translation) and integrating them into historical writing. The new module will ask students to think critically about what sources have been translated for their use, what kinds of sources have been left untranslated, why this might be, and how this impacts what those who do not read French are able to know about the past. Students in the course will also consider how machine translation might offer access to sources that human translators have not yet chosen to translate for the classroom.

Italian Professor and French & Italian Studies Chair Beatrice Arduini will create a new course module for her course “Dante’s Divine Comedy” (ITAL 262), to be offered next in Autumn 2023. The module discusses if and how translations aim to establish a conclusive authority for a medieval poem with a complex textual history such as Dante’s Comedy. The very title “Divine Comedy” appeared for the first time in a 1555 printed edition, and the modern standard critical edition on which all modern English translations are based was adopted in Italy only in the 1960s. This course module will pose the question: What do we translate when we translate Dante, and what do the translations reflect?

Prof. Arduini’s Dante course is eligible as an elective course for our undergraduate Minor in Textual Studies and Digital Humanities. She will also teach core course TXTDS 401 / TXTDS 501: Text Technologies: Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages (offered jointly with HONORS 211 and FRENCH 474) in Winter 2023.

Prof. Frydman will teach core course TXTDS 403: Archives, Data and Databases: Thinking with Archives (offered jointly with FRENCH 435) in Autumn 2023.

Announcements Faculty & Staff Research

Professor Hannah Frydman Wins Malcolm Bowie Prize

Congratulations to Professor of French Hannah Frydman for her receipt of the Malcolm Bowie Prize from the Society for French Studies!

The Bowie Prize goes to the best article published in the preceding year by an early-career researcher in French Studies. Frydman’s article, “Freedom’s Sex Problem: Classified Advertising, Law, and the Politics of Reading in Third Republic France,” was selected by a panel which included Diana Holmes (University of Leeds, Panel Chair, and Society of French Studies Vice-President), Shirley Jordan (Newcastle University), Judith Miller (NYU), Michael Syrotinski (University of Glasgow, Society of French Studies President), and Downing Thomas (University of Iowa).

The panel describes her article:

Through the lens of newly developed classified advertising, this essay analyses the Third Republic’s effort to police reproduction and sexuality at the expense of the regime’s formal commitment to democratic freedom and expression. The judges found it to be a very fine piece of historical writing, meticulously researched and argued, providing a fascinating window into morality laws of the period and the ways in which they attempted to manage language, alongside an exploration of the complexities this situation brought to the commercial landscape of periodicals. It offers an original and illuminating perspective on sexuality and gender relations in the early decades of the Third Republic.

The article, published in French Historical Studies, is free to access through August 2022 from the Duke University Press.

Announcements Courses Faculty & Staff Research

Recent Italian and Textual Studies Scholarship by Professor Beatrice Arduini

In Autumn 2021, Associate Professor of Italian Studies Beatrice Arduini published several new works in Italian and Textual Studies, including scholarship that connects with her work supported by the Simpson Center’s Digital Humanities Summer Fellowships earlier that year.

In collaboration with Jelena Todorović, Professor Arduini co-wrote “Biscioni’s Dante,” published in Textual Cultures, vol. 14, no. 1. This essay focuses on the 1723 edition of two of Dante Alighieri’s “minor texts,” the Vita Nova and the Convivio, both of which had troubled editorial histories, within the volume Prose di Dante Alighieri e di Messer Gio. Boccacci prepared for the Tartini press in Florence by Anton Maria Biscioni. In intervening in the texts of both works in unique ways, this edition sought to return to Dante’s original intentions when writing them. This essay argues that Anton Maria Biscioni’s work offers modern readers a unique glimpse into the workshop of an editor of this eighteenth-century edition of Dante’s texts, an editor who details all the facets of the editorial process, from the collation of manuscripts to the hard choices determined by that collation and by the current practices of the editorial trade. The authors argue that main achievements of this 1723 edition can be seen in its editor’s promotion of bibliographical studies.

Also with Jelena Todorović (Associate Professor of Italian, University of Wisconsin Madison), along with Isabella Magni (Postdoctoral Fellow at the HathiTrust Research Center, HTRC, and Indiana University Luddy School of Informatics), Arduini co-edited as well as contributed an article to the volume, Interpretation and Visual Poetics in Medieval and Early Modern Texts: Essays in Honor of H. Wayne Storey, published by Brill in October.

Arduini explained, “I wanted to edit (and contribute) to this festchrift to honor the work and the career of our advisor and mentor, H. Wayne Storey. This is a tradition that lives very much in the Italian academic world, and many of Wayne’s friends, colleagues and former students were delighted to participate. Therefore, the project is intended for an academic audience interested in medieval and early modern Italian and French studies, textual studies and material culture. We wanted to delineate new research directions and opportunities in our fields of medieval studies, textual studies and digital humanities, based on and inspired by Wayne’s work, hence the word ‘new’ in the title of the volume. Accordingly, many contributions in the volume offer new paths of scholarly exploration that stem from his research. In line with this aim, we divided the essays into two parts, ‘Materiality and Visual Poetics’ and ‘Hermeneutics and Literary Criticism,’ reflecting a range of source texts and approaches that have common roots in two distinct but inseparable strains of Wayne’s scholarly legacy, which are also central to our own research, material studies and hermeneutics.”

Arduini’s article in the volume, ” ‘Dolente me/ son morto ed ag[g]io vita!’ The sonnet corona of ‘disaventura’ by Monte Andrea da Firenze,” examines how Monte presents himself as an emblematic example of misfortune and a poet of bad luck, illustrating with bitterness and tragic realism the precarious economic situation that condemned him to a marginal role in society after his bankruptcy. It is an uncommon characterization of poverty for the Italian 13th century: it moves away from its view as shame and disgrace to hint to a larger social problem, but also refuses the Christian ideal of poverty, which dictates to devalue worldly (i.e., economic and political) success to glorify a more transcendent vision, as presented in the Franciscan tradition and in Dante. The article includes translation of six sonnets, and is part of a larger book project on representation of poverty and suffering, tentatively entitled Suffering Sonnets: The Physicality of Love and Poverty in Monte Andrea (Florence, second half of the 13th century). Arduini started working on a virtual database and digital companion to her book project in summer 2021 thanks to the generous support of one of the Simpson Center DH Summer Fellowships.

Professor Arduini will be examining these themes of poverty as well as incarceration and slavery in her upcoming Spring 2022 class, ITAL 354 A: Travels, Migrations, and Exile: Encounters with the Other in Textual and Digital Archives (offered jointly with C LIT 361 A). Taught in English, the five-credit course has no prerequisites and satisfies both the Diversity (DIV) and Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA) GE requirements.

Faculty & Staff Research

Geoffrey Turnovsky & Anna Preus on Digital Humanities, Data Science, and TEI

Assistant Professor Anna Preus (Department of English, Humanities Data Science) and Associate Professor Geoffrey Turnovsky (Department of French & Italian Studies, Textual Studies Program) are the latest guests on the English department’s “Literature, Language, Culture” series, where they discuss the value of Digital Humanities with host C. R. Grimmer (Department of English, Simpson Center for the Humanities). Their conversation includes how instructors and students make use of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) in their classrooms, their learning, and in the practice of archiving. In this episode you can expect to develop a working understanding of TEI and how it shapes classroom practices and can be a form of hope when considered in and outside of classroom settings. This conversation is available as a video on YouTube and as a podcast.

Anna Preus is a new member of the University of Washington community and joined the English department this academic year as both an Assistant Professor of English and interdisciplinary Humanities Data Science. Geoffrey Turnovsky is French & Italian Studies’ chair, Associate Professor of French, and co-lead of the Textual Studies Program.

This video/podcast is both part of public scholarship dialogue series “Literature, Language, Culture” from the University of Washington (Seattle Campus) Department of English, as well as the Annual Lee Scheingold Lecture in Poetry & Poetics.

Announcements Faculty & Staff Research

New Publication by Professor Hannah Frydman

New Assistant Professor of French Studies Hannah Frydman has published the article, “Freedom’s Sex Problem: Classified Advertising, Law, and the Politics of Reading in Third Republic France,” in French Historical Studies (volume 44, number 4).

The article traces the history of legal responses to so-called immorality (e.g. abortion, sex work, non-normative sex) in the classified pages of the Parisian press. In particular, she shows how decades of judicial uncertainty about whether obscenity law permitted the symptomatic reading of coded ads — or if only surface reading was allowed — protected the freedom of the press, a freedom endangered by attempts to make mass media inhospitable to sexual advertising.

The article is available on the Duke University Press site.