Stanford’s Franco Moretti talks literature and computers

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Harvard’s Tsai Auditorium in CGIS South was filled to the brim on Monday evening for Microemgas: The Very Small, the Very Large and the Object of Digital Humanities, a lecture presentation by Franco Moretti.

Moretti, professor of humanities at Stanford and author of six books including “The Bourgeois” and “Distant Reading,” is considered a forerunner in the field, which uses quantitative analysis to study literature, presenting the data in charts, graphs, maps and trees. He is also director of the Stanford Literary Lab, where most of the research takes place in the form of “experiments.”

“The digital humanities provide many opportunities and many new perspectives as to how to approach the materials [students] work with,” said Homi Bhabha, director of the Mahindra Humanities Center, which co-hosted the event with the Department of English. “And I think this is a good thing.”

The Lit Lab has published a total of eight pamphlets, each which pose a different question about a large quantity of literary data. For instance, “Loudness in the Novel” looks at the voices a reader hears while reading aloud or silently, while “Quantitative Formalism” asks whether computers can recognize literary genres. Micromegas is just one of several on-going projects at the Lab.