Poetry by the Book, Poetry by Numbers
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Tonra, Justin (2013) Poetry by the Book, Poetry by Numbers. Conference Paper
The mass digitisation of our literary heritage has resulted in both possibilities and problems for the literary scholar. With the availability large-scale literary corpora comes the implicit perception that digital surrogates yield the same information as the physical object from which they were produced. But this is not the case. Scholars stand to lose a great deal, including accuracy and credibility, by turning our backs on the physical book. At the same time, however, increased access to masses of literary data enables scholars to make computer-assisted queries that are otherwise impossible. Computers can read (for example) the literature of the eighteenth century and with scholarly guidance and interpretation provoke fresh insights into our understanding of literary history. This talk describes examples of two apparently contradictory approaches to literary study represented by the computer and the book, and suggests that they are more similar than they appear. Both are at heart inspired by a philological imperative to preserve our cultural heritage and provide a means for its investigation.