Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mellon grant for text-mining

The following is a slightly truncated version of a press release that can be found in its entirety here. It features our own Ted Underwood (as well as John Unsworth, who is an affiliate of English even though his appointment is in the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences).


GSLIS Dean John Unsworth, English Department faculty member Ted Underwood, and a team of fellow researchers have received a two-year grant to explore text-mining as a tool for understanding the humanities. Unsworth will serve as co-principal investigator along with Michael Welge, director of the Automated Learning Group at Illinois's National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Stanford University Librarian Mike Keller will serve as principal investigator. Matthew Jockers, at Stanford University, will serve as Project Director.

Awarded in the amount of $761,000 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the grant will fund use cases by participants at four universities: Dan Cohen, from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; Ted Underwood, from the English Department at the University of Illinois; Tanya Clement, Associate Director of Digital Cultures and Creativity at the University of Maryland; and Franco Moretti, the Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University.

Goals of the project include sharing research findings through peer-reviewed publications in print and online, as well as the further development of infrastructure for text-mining.

The main emphasis will be on developing, coordinating, and investigating research questions posed by the participating humanities scholars. Examples include exploring questions related to the evolution of literary style in the 19th-centuryAnglophone novel (Moretti), analyzing oral features of Gertrude Stein’s poetry, prose, and plays in both text and audio recordings (Clement), automated topical classification and visualization of historical documents concerning the events of 9/11 (Cohen), and understanding the impetus for changes in diction during the Romantic era (Underwood). “This is already an established research topic,” Underwood remarked, “because Romantic writers knew the language was changing, and spent a lot of time arguing about the social implications of word choice. But until recently we’ve had no way to pose the most obvious questions you’d want to ask about the topic: How did diction actually change? When? Which genres were affected first? It’s a problem that seems to cry out for analysis at a larger scale.”

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