Center for the Study of Data and Knowledge Holds Conference—DH + DS: The Machine as Horizon of Interpretation

Matthew Jockers

On Friday, April 7, at 9:00 a.m. in Nau Hall, Room 101, UVA’s Center for the Study of Data and Knowledge (CSDK) kicks off its conference, “DH + DS: The Machine as Horizon of Interpretation.”

The keynote speaker will be Matt Jockers, Associate Dean for Research & Partnerships, the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, the Director of the Nebraska Literary Lab, and the former Director of the Stanford Literary Lab. His subject, “Novel Analytics from James Joyce to the Bestseller Code,” will describe how he went from being a close reader of language in Joyce’s Ulysses to mining thousands of novels in search of the linguistic patterns most typical to books that sell best.

In the book The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jockers and his research partner, Jodie Archer, took the advice of Google researchers, to “make use of the best ally we have: the unreasonable effectiveness of data.” Instead of seeking a formula or telling authors how to write a successful novel, Jockers and Archer went to the books, thousands of them, and leveraged computation to ask a simple question: “what are these texts made of?” The bold claim of their research is that novels that hit the New York Times bestseller list are not random lottery winners but books that share an uncanny number of textual features. “Our belief,” they write, “while it may be irritating and old-fashioned, is still that if you want to be a bestselling writer then first you have to learn and really appreciate fiction with as many tools as you can.”

Following the address, Matt Jockers will join Don Brown (Director, Data Science Institute); Alison Booth (Director, Scholars’ Lab), Abby Flower (Systems and Information Engineering), and Bill Pearson (Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics) in a panel discussion.

This event is free and open to the public.


Morning Session (Nau Hall, room 101)

  • 9:00 a.m. Welcoming Remarks
  • 9:10 a.m. Keynote Address
  • 10:30 a.m. Coffee Break
  • 10:50 a.m. Panel Discussion
  • 12:00 p.m. Break for Lunch

Afternoon Session (Alderman Library, room 317)

  • 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. Open Discussion with UVA President’s Fellows and others
  • 3:30 p.m. Concluding Remarks

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