"Nothing but a newspaper can drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment..."
— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
“[W]e have seen that the very conception of the newspaper implies the refraction of even ‘world events’ into a specific imagined world of vernacular readers; and also how important to that imagined community is an idea of steady, solid simultaneity through time.”
— Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
This site will soon include data, visualizations, and interpretive prose drawn from the Infectious Texts project, which seeks to develop theoretical models that will help scholars better understand what qualities—both textual and thematic—helped particular news stories, short fiction, and poetry “go viral” in nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines. Prior to copyright legislation and enforcement, literary texts as well as other non-fiction prose texts circulated promiscuously among newspapers as editors freely reprinted materials borrowed from other venues. What texts were reprinted and why? How did ideas—literary, political, scientific, economic, religious—circulate in the public sphere and achieve critical force among audiences? By employing and developing computational linguistics tools to analyze the large textual databases of nineteenth-century newspapers newly available to scholars, this project will generate new knowledge of the nineteenth-century print public sphere.
Infectious Texts is sponsored by Northeastern University's NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities' Office of Digital Humanities. The project team includes Professors Ryan Cordell, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, and David Smith, as well as Ph.D. students Abby Mullen and Matthew Williamson. This placeholder website was designed by Ryan Cordell, who you can contact at @ryancordell on Twitter.
To learn more about the project, you can:
- Read our paper, "Infectious Texts: Modeling Text Reuse in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers," which will be published by IEEE Computer Society Press for the Proceedings of the Workshop on Big Humanities.
- Read an interview with the NEH about the project on the Office of Digital Humanities' blog.
- Our successful Start-Up Grant proposal to the NEH's Office of Digital Humanities.
- Listen to an interview with project PI Ryan Cordell for WYNC's On the Media.
- Read a nice writeup of the project on Wired Magazine's MapLab Blog, "Here’s How Memes Went Viral — In the 1800s"