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Can a computer carry out sophisticated literary analysis?

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(Read caption) Based on his statistical findings, researcher and professor Matthew L. Jockers said Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott were the two most influential authors of their time.

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Yes, we as a society now use computers to analyze large amounts of data. But can a computer parse literature as well as (or better) than a human reader?

That’s the question being explored by researcher Matthew L. Jockers, who used a computer to go through more than 3,000 works that were published between 1780 and 1900. According to a piece in The New York Times, Jockers released his findings last year and is about to publish a book compiling it titled “Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History.”

Based on the computer’s analysis, Jockers, who is a researcher at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska as well as an assistant professor in the English department, found that Jane Austen (happy birthday, “Pride and Prejudice”!) and “Ivanhoe”’s Sir Walter Scott were the most influential writers of their time.

They were “the literary equivalent of Homo erectus, or, if you prefer, Adam and Eve,” Jockers told The New York Times.


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