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This research project, housed at American Studies Leipzig, is interested in
the ‘data imaginary’ of the nineteenth century. It asks how ‘data’ came to be an important cultural (social, political, textual)
category; how something as abstract as the notion of presumably ‘pure,’ discontinuous, discrete, often numerical and quantifiable
information came to be imagined as a ‘thing’ that can be created, bought, sold, regulated, or used for all manner of interactions
and socio-political negotiations; how data came to be imagined as something with social and political valencies; and, most
importantly, how this new ‘thing’ gained cultural presence not simply as a tool but as a way of thinking about the world.
Literary and cultural studies have stressed the role of narrative for the emergence of national identity, for the negotiation of cultural and social difference, and for navigating the transformations of modernity. Thinking about the culturalization of data and the rise of the data imaginary complements this perspective by asking for the role that emphatically nonnarrative symbolic forms—and the textual practices they entail—have played in this. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the symbolic form of data not only emerged as an increasingly salient way of describing the world; it also constituted a foil against which narrative practices of worldmaking, such as literature, could define themselves.
Tinkering with a distant reading of Whitman as one way to better appreciate his knowledge work has yielded a first visualization of similarities between the lines in all seven major editions of Leaves of Grass. Depending on one's point of view, this is either an editing history or a chart of resonances within the volumes.
First Meeting of the Research Network on “Narrative Liminality” at Leipzig, with wonderful people and fascinating conversations on data, play, ritual, spectacle, and narrative as symbolic forms. More to follow.
The Research Network on “Narrative Liminality and/in the Formation of American Modernities” will receive funding by the German Research Foundation DFG. It will investigate the liminal space between narrative and other symbolic forms, such as data.
Poster “The 19th-Century US Data Imaginary” (Conference on “Society through the Lens of the Digital,” Hannover)
Paper “Reading With an Index: Power’s ‘Diagram and Statistical Record’ and the Emerging Data Imaginary” (Workshop on “American Media/Knowledge at the Turn of the 20th Century,” Berlin)
Paper “Interactive Reading: Nineteenth-Century Databases as Narratively Liminal Symbolic Form” (ISSN Convention, Amsterdam)
Paper “The Law as Algorithm: Legal Discourse and the Rhetoric of Data in Nineteenth-Century Abolitionism” (GAAS Convention, Osnabrück) ▶ Forthcoming in 2019 in the conference volume in the American Studies - A Monograph Series series with Winter Verlag, Heidelberg.
Paper “Early Big Data” (Regional Colloquium, Dresden)
Archival Research at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.