Macroanalysis- Jockers

After downloading and reading this book, it left me in sort of a daze. Almost to the point that made me think, did I really understand the book, or the end of it for that matter. The beginning was very well written and informational. However, the later chapters seemed to focus on a great deal of material from British and Irish writers and included a lot of charts and graphs showing data about these writers. I felt very lost in the later chapters, and in the point that Jockers was actually trying to make. The following information provided is from the notes I took while reading the book.

The first parts of the book focused on DH and what makes up DH. On pages 10-12 the author says that it is “revolutionizing, a new way of thinking, and is a new way to read, access and understand the meaning of texts.” However, there is still no general idea to what DH actually defines. The digital age is becoming more popular with access to digital libraries and digitalization in general. This “invites a new type of evidence gathering.” (16)

Jockers introduced what he thinks is a better approach to DH. He calls it the macroanalytic approach, and it will help digital literary studies. With the growing DH programs now offered at the college level, more of these jobs are becoming more available. Many of the tools we use every day fall into the category of DH. Google search, Google books and Microsoft word are just a few of the things that have become available to us because of DH programs. On page 35 Jockers states that “macroanalysis would access details that have been forgotten, unavailable and ignored.” This is also an alternative method for accessing texts. More facts, information and data would be available. Overall this would provide a better understanding of textual information.

In the chapters that follow, Jockers talks about other types of ways to gather data, and information. He mentions metadata, and topic modeling. These ways only go so far though. The overall problem going back to the beginning of this post is that we just do not have the tools we need to access older works, such as early 19th and 20th century works. He states on page 182-183, that “only 2.3% of the books published in the U.S between 1927-1946 are still in print. 5/7 books scanned by Google are commercially available, and 75% of books in U.S. libraries are out of print. We need to find an approach that allows us to access these important pieces of work including historic documents.

Overall, it was an interesting book, and helped me better understand some elements of DH. I had mentioned in my DH project evaluation that I can see the importance of digitalizing primary sources, and other historic documents. Jockers mentioned many different authors including American, British and Irish. One of the problems that reoccurred in the book was that the same word has different meanings in other languages. In that case when we are transferring works into a digital format, or translating them we must be aware of what the word actually means, and what meaning the author wanted to use in the text. He might be onto something in the next step, or approach to better the DH field.

10 thoughts on “Macroanalysis- Jockers”

  1. Sarah, thanks for getting the discussion started. A few clarifications I’d like to add in. One is that while Jockers’s Macroanalysis certainly advocates for using DH methods, it’s not a treatise on DH per se. Maybe it’s too much to ask for it to be defining the field at large, rather than demonstrating a few methods that some DHers use, especially those who do literary analysis. Another is how we draw the distinction about what DHers might use, versus what DHers make. For example. the piece mentioned Google search, Google books and Microsoft word. You’re absolutely correct that many DH practitioners find ways to use these tools. That said, these are all products made by corporate software engineers to sell, rather than by humanists to further humanistic inquiry.

    Incidentally, though, I do agree with you in another way. I’m probably more open to the use of commercial tools for DH purposes than many DH practitioners. I was once part of a project of humanists, librarians, and technologists that came up with functional requirements that users would want for digital repositories. It seemed like almost all the features users wanted were already in some way implemented on commercial sites or software, and many of the features were ones that could be purchased or rented for a lot less money that it would take for DH practitioners to develop or university IT departments to maintain. So I’m a believer in what works, with of course the caveat that we must be wary of issues like who owns what, long-term sustainability, and other hazards when it comes to working with for-profit entities rather than scholars, libraries, and universities.

  2. Sarah I feel your pain on being dazed after reading that book. I am not what some people call a “numbers guy”. Statistical data, charts, and numbers tend to bore me, so this read was very challenging for me. The book did bring up certain correlations between what we have already read and new material. I particularly connected with the part when they talk about using macroanalysis to see the bigger picture of Digital Humanities. This reminded me of the tool or instrument theory that we previously learned about. Like a telescope is used to see the universe, Digital Humanities is a lens to see the wider world of the study of humanities and I think this same principle applies to macroanalysis. I was also fascinated by the statistics that you listed, particularly the one about historical documents. As a history grad student one of the hardest parts of my job is knowing a particular document exist but having no way to access it. It’s the most annoying and frustrating feeling in the world, so I fully agree with on needing to digitize more historical documents.

    1. David! I desperately want your expertise as a history major. When reading this book I just couldn’t buy into the idea of DH. I think I was kind of skeptical all semester, but this really turned me off. Jockers discusses how digital texts are mostly made digital for easier access but we rarely use digital tools to analyze them. Do you think the access or the analysis is more important in a digital library?

      1. That is a great question, Cassie, if I might chime in. At this point, I think access is considered more important. Sarah mentioned in her post about the lack of availability of many documents, especially the earlier ones. To keep these numbers from continuing to plummet, we must come up with a way to preserve them for future generations. Therefore, there are a lot of digitization projects going on to keep these documents from going extinct.

        1. Well said Katie. I agree. It is important to preserve the title first and then the analysis of it. But I don’t want to understate the importance of Macroanalysis. I’m not sure if I would have felt this way two years ago before starting the phd program, but I see a need for this type of scrutiny with digital libraries that Jockers explains so thoroughly. It is important to understand who we are through our past. A big part of our past is documented in our literature. I’m curious about the results of different demographics, genres and literature as opposed to the studies that were included in the book.

          The one thing I am beginning to question, which I wasn’t questioning until I started reading posts, is the necessity of digital humanities. I think by all means it is necessary. The tools, as David has stated, is a way to see more distinctly into our world.

          Additional, I like that Jockers states that we don’t have to let go of the textual analysis that we have relied on up to this point. Macroanalysis strengthens the traditional methods of considering data in literary works. Macroanalysis creates a new set of questioning into action. Not connecting multiple methods to analyzing all this data would be irresponsible and detrimental to academia.

          Although the case studies presented in part 2 were intensely presented to us, I feel it was necessary to understanding the difference between the process of Jockers and other literary analysis.

    2. I like your telescope analogy. I think an important take-away from the book is there are just some things the human mind cannot handle. We can’t read every piece of literature written in the time period of our expertise, no matter how much we want to. Macroanalysis is a tool that can be used to help us see deeper and wider than we can physically do, which can lead to richer arguments and fewer misunderstandings caused by limited sampling. Macroanalysis also lends quantifiable evidence to humanities research, something that has been lacking in the past. Although I too am not a numbers person, I still feel there is some inherent credibility when I read something that has quantifiable data in it (even though lots of charts, graphs, and statistics tend to bore me).

    3. David-
      Not only as a history grad student but also as a Social Studies teacher, I find the need to access historical things a daily struggle. While the teachers that teach Language Arts and Math have all the tools necessary, as well as games, lots of websites and just an overload of resources I am not only jealous but I would love to have the resources. What a great way to differentiate the material for those leveled students. For me, right now I make the majority of my activities because I have a textbook and the textbook website, and videos/pictures of course. But to be able to able to pull historical documents and have that accessible to them would be AWESOME!!!

  3. I agree with you, Katie. Perhaps I am a product of my generation or the data-hungry institutional environment I work in, but I found Jockers’ book refreshing and exciting. I would never (ever) call myself a numbers person, but to me macroanalysis is about so much more than numbers. I was heavily annotating Jockers as I read him, and this had as much to do with my ineptitude in the face of abstraction as it did with my excitement.

    My teaching philosophy has always been one of continuous improvement, always striving to find better ways of doing things. My philosophy on scholarship is really no different, and maybe this is why macroanalysis is so exciting to me. I feel like macroanalysis allows us access to the next phase of literary studies, a phase into which we necessarily need to move. Along with close reading, macroanalysis lends legitimacy to what we do and the claims we make. What’s more, it brings us into rank with other disciplines that have been working at this level for years.

    I love and agree with Jockers when he says that his work “does more to open doors than it does to close them” (32). Yes. So much yes.

  4. Thank you for your post! Definitely helps clarify some of his points. As someone who has never taken an economics or statistics class in her life, trying to wrap my head around Jockers’ ideas about data and macroanalysis was a scary situation. But I get where he’s coming from – data serves a strong purpose in providing a foundation for theoretical work in DH studies. Almost all theoretical fields rely on evidence and support to back up any claims made, and macroanalysis is a great way to delve into how to provide hard evidence of literary or DH theories that emerge now and in the future.

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