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Z-Axis Tool Updates

* As we continue to develop the z-axis tool, we would first like to extend our appreciation to the 2015 Modernist Studies Association “Z-Axis” seminar participants for testing and providing valuable feedback for an early version of the tool. We would also like acknowledge and thank Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship. Much of our current and future development of the tool follows on a demonstration of the tool at and feedback from the Center.

Z-Axis: From Methodology to Useable Tool

How does a text shape a city? How does a novel contest or reify popular narratives of a given place? How does the history of a place inform our understanding of a text? Such are the questions the Modernist Versions Project sought to explore when it developed the z-axis methodology—a methodology that produced a three-dimensional model that visualized the way a text transformed a city.

An image of our original workflow
An image of our original workflow

The first instantiation of the project requiredheavy XML markup and knowledge of XSLT by already time-stretched researchers. The time spent encoding, however, truncated the time literary scholars had to do what they do best: analyze text. If we wanted to develop a methodology that scholars would use, we would have to make it accessible. We needed to reduce the barriers of time and computational expertise usually required for geospatial analyses of modernist texts. We needed to develop a tool that was easy to use and allowed researchers to upload the texts and maps that interested them.

And we did.


Project Updates

The past several months have seen some substantial updates for the z-axis team. First, we’ve turned a time consuming methodology into an easy to use, working tool:

The website for the z-axis tool
The website for the z-axis tool

Early versions of the tool allowed users to choose from a small repository of texts or upload their own text to the server. The tool then used the Stanford Core Named Entity Recognition software (NER) to pick out all the place names and identify their frequency. The z-axis tool mapped the place names and warped one of three listed maps based on the frequency of place name occurrence in a text.

An image of an early z-axis map
An image of an early z-axis map

Developing the initial tool was the first major step forward for the team. The second step forward was user-testing. The Z-Axis Seminar at the Modernist Studies Association conference in November 2015 gave us our first chance to test the tool with our target users: modernist scholars. The participants used the tool to analyze a modernist text and wrote papers based on their geospatial readings of Mrs. Dalloway, Jacob’s Room, The Secret Agent, and other modernist works. Their intricate analyses of these texts showed us that the tool was in fact useful for literary scholars; it also proved to us that we (or rather our brilliant developer, Colin Jones) could design the tool to do so much more.

New Features

The new features of the z-axis tool are inspired by the suggestions of the MSA workshop participants and feedback from Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship.

Users can now

  • geolocate and map sentiment present in a text,
  • upload and georeference their own maps of London,
  • capture images of their warped maps, and
  • isolate sections of a text to map.

We’ve also

  • expanded our repository of warpable maps,
  • expanded our list of comparative maps,
  • added a feature that allows users to upload maps,
  • added georeferencing capabilities for user uploaded maps, and
  • added floating tags over the map that identify the place names associated with a warped area.
Z-axis map with sentiment analysis
Z-axis map with sentiment analysis

The development we are most excited about is sentiment analysis. This added feature means that you can see how a text like Mrs Dalloway inflects London with positive or negative sentiment. Is Hyde Park associated with positive language? How does this compare to the area around Big Ben? Are there distinct clusters of positivity? Why?

Your Feedback

As we continue to develop the z-axis tool, we plan on refining the sentiment analysis to identify more nuanced emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and frustration. We will also add a feature that shows you which section of the text is linked to a particular place. Because this is a tool designed for researchers, we welcome your feedback. Let us know what would you like to see from this humanities centered, geospatial analysis tool.

Big Modernism Goes Macro

Work on Big Modernism goes macro! In the past year, with the Modernist Versions Project and Compute Canada, we’ve been expanding the plain-text repository of modernist prose from thirty-two to eighty-six texts. We’ve added texts by key authors (Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, and John Steinbeck, among others), as well as additional texts by the authors we had already included. While still unable to access many modernist texts online (I’ve written about this here), we are now able to experiment on a bigger canvas of literary modernism.

Using scripts that incorporate topic modelling software and Bayesian analysis algorithms, Compute Canada researcher Belaid Moa and I have constructed a multidimensional space in which to better understand the intricate relationships among the novels in our corpus. The scripts position texts according to their topical relevance, as I’ve explained in a previous post. With a larger data set, however, different patterns emerge (see the raw comparison data here). Read more

Z-Axis Scholarship: Modeling How Modernists Wrote the City

The following long paper was delivered at the Digital Humanities 2014 conference. Co-authored by Alex Christie, Stephen Ross, Jentery Sayers, Katie Tanigawa, and the INKE-MVP research team.

One of the most basic analytical tools we employ in literary criticism is to consider the setting of a literary work: where does the action take place? Naturally, if the action takes place in a city with the same name and some of the same recognizable features as cities existing in the world, we assume that the fiction is set in the real city. At the same time, no city in a novel is precisely the historical or actual city you could up and visit. We all know that cities in novels are fictitious. They are constructs sometimes used to illustrate characters’ states of mind, sometimes used to point out ideological or political interventions, sometimes used to invoke historical narratives. And yet the impulse persists to think the city of Paris is the same as the Paris in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, or Jean Rhys’s Quartet, or Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. This list could continue on. Read more

Vizualizing Communities in Mrs. Dalloway

“It was precisely twelve o’clock; twelve by Big Ben; whose stroke was wafted over the northern part of London; blent with that of other clocks, mixed in a thin ethereal way with the clouds and wisps of smoke, and died up there among the seagulls–twelve o’clock struck as Clarissa Dalloway laid her green dress on her bed, and the Warren Smiths walked down Harley Street. Twelve was the hour of their appointment. Probably, Rezia thought, that was Sir William Bradshaw’s house with the grey motor car in front of it. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.”

According to network analysis, paragraph 349 in Mrs. Dalloway is the most central; that is, in the whole of the novel, this is the paragraph that connects the greatest number of significant character nodes. That it takes place in the middle of the day seems to indicate the extent of Woolf’s, perhaps unconscious, narrative ability. Read more

The Versioning Machine for Audio: Introducing VM 5.0

Over the past year, the MVP team has been working on updates to the Versioning Machine. The Versioning Machine is a framework and an interface for displaying multiple versions of text encoded according to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines. While VM 4.0 had been updated to P5 compatibility, VM 5.0 is now HTML5 compatible too. The most significant outcome of this update is that the VM can now incorporate sound-based, image-based, and text-based versions as part of our understanding of the constellated “text” (in the Barthesian sense). VM 5.0 is still under development and will be released in the coming months with samples that demonstrate the new audio functionality. Tanya Clement, Martin Holmes and Susan Schreibman contributed to this writeup. Read more

Making Modernism Big

This semester, with the Modernist Versions Project (MVP) and Maker Lab in the Humanities, I have been creating a repository of modernist texts for the purposes of text analysis and machine learning. The scope of this project requires a powerful infrastructure, including hardware, software, and technical support, provided in part by Compute Canada, a high performance computing resource platform for universities and institutions across Canada. Last semester was spent aggregating a significant number of modernist texts (in TXT format) and learning the affordances of computer vision. The goal is to mobilize machine learning techniques to infer as yet unseen patterns across modernism. We hope that scripts written in collaboration with Compute Canada will allow us to be comprehensive and equitable in our articulation of modernism.

Read more