Talk at Cambridge Computer Lab

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Do a Billion Documents Change the First World War?

Shelley Hulan, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Waterloo

Tuesday 21 February 2012, 14:30

Room FW11, Cambridge Computer Laboratory, William Gates Building.


Humanities scholars have historically examined World War I through a limited number of exceptional texts comprised of literary works, personal diaries, and select correspondence that represent a tiny fraction of the billions of documents that the conflict generated and through which military administrations tracked millions of troop and civilian activities. These “exceptional” texts are also frequently regarded as facilitating the early twentieth-century turn to contemporary modernity, an intellectual and cultural movement that embraced the notion that the language most descriptive of the times was dense, difficult, and dubious about the possibility that the war had any meaning whatsoever. This presentation looks at the ways in which data mining the mountain of other, “non-exceptional” wartime records challenges popular notions of the language that most accurately represents the war.