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CANCELLED: Do a Billion Documents Change the First World War?

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Talk cancelled due to illness of the speaker.

Humanities scholars have historically examined World War I through a limited number of exceptional texts comprised of literary works, personal diaries, and select correspondence that represent a tiny fraction of the billions of documents that the conflict generated and through which military administrations tracked millions of troop and civilian activities. These “exceptional” texts are also frequently regarded as facilitating the early twentieth-century turn to contemporary modernity, an intellectual and cultural movement that embraced the notion that the language most descriptive of the times was dense, difficult, and dubious about the possibility that the war had any meaning whatsoever. This presentation looks at the ways in which data mining the mountain of other, “non-exceptional” wartime records challenges popular notions of the language that most accurately represents the war.

Bio: Shelley Hulan is an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Waterloo. She is interested in the implications that data mining large text corpora have for humanities research. With Rob Warren (of the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science at Waterloo) she looks at ways of searching these corpora beyond the word search. Her research interests include late imperial nostalgia in fin-de-siècle Canadian writing and nineteenth-century First Nations rhetoric.

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