At Stanford

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 and stylistic conventions. The multilingual sub-project of the fan fiction project engages with fan fiction as a global phenomenon. While fanfic may be responding to the same “prompt” of a shared international franchise, the experience of engaging with fanfic can vary depending on which archive a reader uses. Different archives have different subcultures, norms, and technical affordances that influence the ways in which a reader can find and respond to texts — in addition to the ways that these communities are shaped by linguistic and cultural norms. This sub-project compares three facets of metadata across an English, Italian, and Russian fanfic archive: the conceptualization of “genre”, the material that necessitates a “warning”, and how characters are romantically paired (frequency of pairings, conveyance of agency in the relationship, and “slash-fic” or same-sex pairings), exploring the ways that these responses to Harry Potter are informed by language and culture.

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



In this project, we explore the discursive inter-disciplinarity of novels, using machine learning to identify points at which authors incorporate the language and style of other contemporary disciplines into their narratives. How do authors signal the shift between narrative and, for example, history, philosophy or natural science? And do these signaling practices change with time or with discipline? Akin to what Bakhtin terms “heteroglossia,” these stylistic shifts indicate not only the historically contingent ways that novels are assembled from heterogeneous discourses, but they also shed light on the practices of disciplinary knowledge itself.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Michaela Bronstein, Abigail Droge, Erik Fredner, Ryan Heuser, Xander Manshel, Nichole Nomura, JD 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


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


Star Texts

A “star text,” or “star image,” as Richard Dyer’s seminal Stars (1979) defines it, is a composite media text, assembled from the various appearances, visual, verbal, and aural, of a celebrity on screen or in the press. Treating celebrity performances as sites of intertextuality, a “star text” is a metanarrative, linking each film in which a given star features. Building on the Lab’s growing interest in Film Studies, this project seeks to operationalize and expand upon Dyer’s concept. Tracing Hollywood’s star texts and mapping their interrelations, our project proposes this matrix of metanarratives as the ground against which the meaning of each performance must figure.

Participants: Charlotte Lindeman, Mark Algee-Hewitt, Hannah Walser


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


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



What happens to the language fingerprints of the original work when it is translated into another language? This project looks at the ways that English translations of foreign-language texts literature diverge from original English literature at the morpho-syntactic level and examines both the sources and the impact of those divergences. The project aims to identify the most distinguishing syntactic traits (e.g. part-of-speech tagging, mean sentence length, number of clauses, number of pronouns, etc.) for individual languages. By identifying a translator’s signal, relative to original author and genre, we can explore further the formal literary affordances that the translation process entails for each language. While the project is currently centered on Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, the group welcomes collaborators working with other languages.

Participants: Quinn Dombrowski, Yulia Ilchuk, Antonio Lenzo, J.D. Porter



Do literary critics need to know what the typical novel is like? Critics routinely turn to moments where novels violate our expectations of the form, expectations that have been developed by reading, writing about, and discussing novels of all sorts. We may intuitively reject the idea of any given novel’s typicality—each is, in some sense, unlike any other—yet paradoxically rely on a conception of the typical novel as a heuristic for other works in the genre. We know when our expectations in a novel have been undercut, but in writing about a given novel, we tend to focus more on what that undercutting does than the origins of the expectation. This project shifts the critical focus from the former to the latter.

Participants: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Erik Fredner




“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 and International Security

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, Whitney McIntosh, Stephen Stedman