Drawing New Research Questions from a Digital Corpus of One Author’s Works

The following post was written by Delys and Phil Snyder.

The Cormac McCarthy Corpus Project began as Phil Snyder (English), a literary critic, began writing about Cormac McCarthy’s style and found he needed more language tools, and so he joined forces (in several ways) with Delys Snyder (University Writing), who has expertise in language and corpora.  They realized that to answer some of their questions about style, they could use a digital corpus, so they joined with Jeremy Browne (Digital Humanities) and created digital tools to research McCarthy’s novels and plays, asking questions like, “How does McCarthy use the word “said” in each chapter of The Road, and what does that tell us about the changes in the narrative?” or “What are the words that appear within 5 words of the word ‘Cherokee’ or ‘horse’ or ‘woman’ in Blood Meridian, and what does that tell us about attitudes about these groups?” or “How frequently and in what sections does McCarthy begin sentences with long participial phrases, and how do these sentences affect the narrative flow?” or “How do the passages of dialogue differ from the passages of narration in The Orchard Keeper?” Being able to digitally collect and quantify McCarthy’s words and sentences empowers readers to look both sweepingly and microscopically at his prose and deepen their insight into McCarthy’s craft.page01

This corpus of one author can act as a prototype for creating digital corpora of other authors.  Interested?  Come find out how a searchable corpus can help answer questions in your texts at the Humanities Center’s Colloquium.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Seth Keeton says:

    Hi,

    My name is Seth Keeton, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Utah. I was recommended to your project by David Roh when asking him for his opinion of fair use in regards to my DH project SongHelix. Your use of McCarthy’s texts is similar, in that I am taking keywords from classical art song repertoire for analysis and a database. If you have a fair use assessment of your own project, would you mind sharing it with me? As I build a case for my own fair use of existing song translations, having a successful example would be extremely helpful.

    Thanks so very much,
    Seth

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