At Stanford


Modeling Dramatic Networks

This project arises from a systematic comparison of hundreds of dramatic networks from a dozen different literatures and historical periods. At this stage, we are using computer models to identify the fundamental properties of dramatic networks – with particular attention to the correspondence between genres and patterns of growth – and reflect on the relationship between modeling parameters and aesthetico-critical categories.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Zephyr Frank, Ryan Heuser, Franco Moretti


Suspense: Language, Narrative, Affect

This project seeks to bridge the gap between the experience of suspense as it is felt by the reader in anticipation of impending events, and the formal features that may be responsible for producing this feeling. Does suspense work in the same way in every period and genre, and for all types of readers – or is it a highly individual reaction, promoted by techniques that vary according to time and place? The diverse group of researchers involved in this project are exploring these central questions – which lie at the intersection of language, narrative and psychology – via a detailed comparative analysis of “suspenseful” texts from 1750 to the present day.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Chelsea Davis, Abigail Droge, Tasha Eccles, Morgan Frank, Erik Fredner, J. D. Porter, Andrew Shephard, Hannah Walser

Representations of Race and Ethnicity in American Fiction, 1789-1964

This project, which aims to reconstruct racial discourse in American literature, makes three major contributions to comparative racial studies. First, we provide a historically sensitive map of the ethnicities that most occupied the nation’s racial imaginary, registering how different ethnic groups were perceived to be biologically, geographically, or socially linked. Second, we track the descriptive terms most associated with particular ethnicities over time as we trace the changing discursive fields surrounding particular racial groups. Finally, the project’s third phase compares this “background” racial discourse with specific representations of racially marked characters, investigating the effect of different positions in character-space on racial representation.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, J.D. Porter, Hannah Walser


Reading Norton Anthologies: Canons and Trajectories

As the longest-running series of commercial literary anthologies and a pedagogical tool commonly used at both undergraduate and graduate levels, Norton has been in the business of binding literary canons for more than half a century. How, then, has the Norton helped to create a literary canon, and how has this canon changed over time? This project examines every text included in every edition of the various Norton series since M.H. Abrams edited the first Norton Anthology of English Literature in 1964. This approach allows us to explore the trajectories not only of individual authors and works, but broader trends of inclusion and exclusion in the Norton’s canon.

Participants: Erik Fredner, David McClure, J.D. Porter


The Performance of Character

This project seeks to complicate the ways that computational methods can be used to explore gender by studying the dialogic speech in novels as gendered performances by the author of the text. How does a male author voice a female character? What dialogic choices underlie a female author’s representation of male speech? As we move from understanding gender as an essential feature of authors to a set of historically contingent social practices, we gain a deeper insight into the role that gendered dialogue plays in the development of the novel.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Grace Muzny, Dan Jurafsky


Fanfiction: Generic Genesis and Evolution

Since 1998, well over 6 million stories have been uploaded to, the largest fanfiction archive on the internet. This archive offers a unique source of data on prose writing as styles and genres that developed over centuries in published words take place here within decades, years or even week. The goal of this project is to study the development and progression of genre as we mine two decades of fanfiction in order to track both authorial and readerly influence, the development of generic innovation, and the genesis and evolution of specific archetypes & stylistic conventions.

Participants: Steele Douris, Mark Algee-Hewitt, David McClure


Trans-Historical Poetry Project

The goal of the Trans-Historical Poetry Project is to trace the variation of poetic form over a large corpus of English-language poetry, combining the insights of prosodic and metrical analysis with the methods of phonetics, natural language processing, and statistics. While using computational techniques for handling large corpora, we remain faithful to the aims and questions of traditional prosody: what kind of refinement, for instance, can we add to current theories of meter by being able to examine long historical series of poems? Can algorithms reliably recognize complex metrical schemes – and what patterns will emerge from the histories of those schemes? Our work on variation in line and poem length between 1500 and 1900 has already yielded results, and is now moving towards a more comprehensive analysis of poetic form that includes features such as stress, rhyme, and metrical form.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Ryan Heuser, J.D. Porter, Jonathan Sensenbaugh, Justin Tackett





“Literature/Littérature”: history of a word

In collaboration with the Sorbonne, Paris; the Max Planck Institute, Frankfurt; and Loyola University New Orleans

There is still no empirical and comparative history of the use of the word “literature” in different languages, including those – English and French – which exerted such a key influence on the historiography of the 19th century. In this project, the history of the concept of literature will make use of broad lexicographical research, and be based on solid quantitative evidence from both the French and the English tradition. The genealogy of the term that emerges from the study follows its transformations through all the disagreements, controversies, and variations typical of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Participants: Didier Alexandre, Alexandre Gefen, Véronique Gély [Sorbonne]; Sarah Allison [LUNO]; Marissa Gemma [MPI]; Mark Algee-Hewitt, Ryan Heuser, Franco Moretti [Literary Lab]


“Security” in Foreign Affairs, 1922—1939

Academic, political, and social concepts of “security” underwent rapid transformations after the Treaty of Versailles, proliferating in meaning as they offered new platforms for governmental action. This project tracks the changing set of associations around ‘security’ that anticipate the significance of the concept during the Cold War and after. To study this, we look at Foreign Affairs from the start of its publication (1922) to the eve of World War II, measuring the context of the word across its use. Crucially, Foreign Affairs prints not only academics, but also politicians, policymakers, members of the military, and others from across the field of International Relations, giving us access to an intersection between theory and practice.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Erik Fredner, Arjun Kunnasagaran, Whitney McIntosh, Stephen Stedman


What the Supreme Court talks about when it talks about environmental law

In collaboration with the Roger Williams University School of Law

Based on the corpus of environmental law cases decided by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s, this study examines the role played by two fundamental and conflicting articulations of the Court’s rationale: what we are preliminarily calling “substantive environmental consciousness”, or “environmentality,” and the counterpoint provided – with increasing strength after the 1984 decision in Chevron vs. NRDC – by deference owed to administrative agencies. “What the Supreme Court talks about…” traces the clash between these two principles to the linguistic texture of the Court’s decisions, following the changing balance between keywords and turns of phrase that were and are typical of environmental discussions, the growing presence of specific citations to key cases, and comparable strategies that are both specific to legal discourse and more broadly applicable. Like other projects on post-war discourses, this is a study in how a changing political, social and cultural climate creates such a thick linguistic atmosphere that its choices appear perfectly natural, and perhaps even inevitable.

Participants: Michael Burger [Roger Williams University School of Law]; Mark Algee-Hewitt, Ryan Heuser and Franco Moretti [Literary Lab]