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Short stories

About the project

Status: active

Project team: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Anna Mukamal, J.D. Porter;

Start date: Mar 1, 2019

End date: Jan 27, 2022

Last updated: Jan 1, 2023

“Short Stories” is a collaboration between Mark Algee-Hewitt, Anna Mukamal, and J.D. Porter. This project turns to computational methods to investigate similarities and differences in thousands of short stories using features historically unavailable to literary scholars. We are interested in the formal differences between short stories and novels. Some guiding questions include: How does the language of the short story differ from that of the novel? How do short stories construct plots differently from longer narratives? Are the events of short stories the same as those of novels, or do short stories have their own logic of events? Do characters appear and serve the same functions in short stories as they do in novels? How does the form of the short story change as it develops in the periodical publications of the early twentieth century?

We construct a corpus of short stories drawn from works of fiction published in the magazines from Collections 1 and 2 and of the ProQuest Women’s Magazine Archive, which includes Better Homes and Gardens, Chatelaine, Cosmopolitan, Essence, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Morris’ National Press, Parents’ Magazine, Redbook, Seventeen, Home Journal, Town & Country, Women’s International Network News, and Woman’s Day, as well as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. We also construct a comparison corpus of novels from the Gale corpus of American fiction and the Chicago corpus of twentieth-century fiction. Metadata analysis of this corpus reveals that in women’s magazines, the “peak” of the short story’s prominence arrived later and lasted for longer than scholars have understood when assessing the prevalence and commercial profitability of short stories in more elite, mainstream (coded male) contexts. Moreover, through a set of computational experiments ranging in topic from character mentions to most distinctive words of beginnings and endings, we identify length itself as an undertheorized aspect of literary fiction.

This project ran from 2019-2022 (with publication of our article about this work expected 2023). We presented our work at two Literary Lab presentations (2020/2021) and as part of "Length and Weight," an invited keynote with the Literary Lab Core Research Team at Exploring the World Cultural Archives (with Quantitative, Digital, and Systemic Tools), Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Sibiu, Romania (2021). We were also invited by Gavin Jones and Mike Collins, co-editors of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to the American Short Story, to contribute a chapter entitled “The Affordances of Mere Length: Computational Approaches to Short Story Analysis” (forthcoming 2023).