Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
#SI1: Networks Paper Session
Friday, 26/Jul/2019:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Matthew Hannah
Location: Marquis A, Marriott City Center
capacity 42

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Beyond Letter Networks

Ruth Ahnert1, Sebastian Ahnert2

1Queen Mary University of London; 2University of Cambridge

Archives of correspondence have provided a fruitful area of application for network analysis in recent years. Our own research has exploited an archive of over 132,000 letters digitized at State Papers Online from the Tudor period (1509-1603), using quantitative network analysis to uncover the social and textual organization of this vast archive. However, as Scott Weingart has warned "By only looking on one axis (letters), we get an inflated sense of the importance of spatial distance in early modern intellectual networks.... Distant letters were important, but our networks obscure the equally important local scholarly communities". This paper explores methods for recovering those local networks at scale from letter metadata and content description fields. By reconstructing the itineraries of all the letter authors from the location from which letters were sent, we can discover people who were in a given location at the same time. We can then cross-refer these findings with mentions of those individuals in the other's correspondence (using the letter content description), as well as estimate the significance of two people overlapping by the frequency with which that location was visited over the period of study. We will discuss both our methods for undertaking this process and our key findings.

Picking Up Good Citations: Tracing Networked Ethos Across Rate Your Music

Thomas Lawson

University of Pittsburgh, United States of America

Within rhetoric and composition, digital rhetoric has become a burgeoning subfield in the last decade. In addition to a focus on digital methods for rhetorical analysis and the role of interfaces in rhetorical productions, analyses of review-based database cultures such as RateBeer have received a share of the subfield’s critical attention. For example, scholars such as Jeff Rice have demonstrated how users construct an ethos when reviewing databased content. Oftentimes, the marshaling of community-specific commonplaces with which ethos is constructed is considered to be mimetic, with certain keywords emerging from the repetition of terminology within the network, yielding a common vocabulary and taste.

For this paper, I argue that such scholarship has neglected how a shared vocabulary might derive from these sites’ organization and description of content, promoting an ethos of expertise that entails mastery of the database's digital archives. To illustrate this, I turn to Rate Your Music, where digital archives related to genre, compiling the canons and curios of an exhaustive list of styles, are central to one’s navigation of the database and thereby facilitate a thorough knowledge of popular music’s stylistics. Moreover, turning to Bernard Stiegler’s concept of mnemotechnologies, I show how these pages’ crowd-sourced genre descriptions, for which users comprehensively cite authoritative sources to supply information, enable users to circulate genre-related commonplaces based upon these bygone critics’ writings. That is, this mastery of the site’s archives results in heavily referential, genre-minded reviews of contemporary releases, signaling expertise by repeating the database’s narrow genre categories, its list of canonical and obscure albums, and past experts’ descriptions of these musical styles.

Accounting for Taste: Scientific Print by Subscription in Restoration England

Pierce Williams

Carnegie Mellon University, United States of America

The circulation of scientific print was a key process in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries whereby scientific knowledge became widely accessible as a form of lay expertise and a source of symbolic capital. Yet little can be said with precision about the audience for scientific print or how it evolved over time. In an ongoing effort to characterize the emergence of public science, scholarship has focusedpredominanty on the textual record left by scientific elites, who originated experiments in laboratory spaces, and by experimental demonstrators, who re-staged laboratory experiments in social spaces. However, to understand fully when and by whom science came to be imagined as a public enterprise, a more textured portrait of the non-specialist audience for science is necessary.

This paper makes use of network statistics that were generated using an undervalued source of data concerning the non-specialist audience for scientific print. Subscription lists record the names, addresses, pedigrees and a variety of other information about individuals who paid for copies of books before they were printed. After a fitful emergence, publishing by subscription became a common practice in the eighteenth century whereby authors and publishers guaged the demand for risky publications and secured financial commitments in advance. Extant subscription lists record the commitments of every class of society, from bricklayers to Oxford dons and officers of state. They also indicate the kinds of learning that people found worthwhile and when. Moreover, the social scheme of things is almost invariably reproduced in miniature in the hierarchy of subscription lists.

Subscription lists have long been dismissed as a valid basis of inference for two reasons: first, they do not present reliable pictures of readership; second, the vast constellation of economic and sociological data they record are difficult for serial readers to analyze at scale. With respect to the latter concern, this paper demonstrates the power of network analysis to address the multimodal and multiplex data preserved in subscription lists. With respect to the former concern, I argue that while subscription lists may not present reliable pictures of readership, they do present reliable pictures of what Chris Warren has called “net work”: the material and social labor of making and sustaining associations—between communities and commitments, people and ideas, and practices and public judgments about their place in society.

Rather than attempting to infer intellecutal influences on the public from the contents of their libraries, this study analyzes the evolving appeal of public science on the basis of the contours of its non-specialist constituency. In the process, I discuss the challenges of using what are in fact graphs of commercial data as a proxies for sociocultural change. I also consider the affordances and limitations of various methods for reducing graph complexity to facilitate interpretation.

You Are What You Watch: Mapping Cultural Difference via Media Consumption

Brendan Kredell

Oakland University, United States of America

This paper begins from the fundamental premise that our efforts to understand culture via the taste preferences that signal it are limited by the ways those preferences themselves are constrained. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this is the binary of American electoral politics: the deep blue hues of Alabama's Black Belt, Texas' Rio Grande Valley, and the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia all look the same to us on a map, their superficial similarity obscuring significant cultural differences at the local level.

With this research, I propose that we can achieve a much more nuanced portrait of cultural difference in the United States via another indicator: home movie rentals. Using ZIP code-level data representing rentals in twelve of America's largest metropolitan areas from 2009, I am able to capture preference with a degree of granularity that allows for neighborhood-level analysis of audiences. I identify a variety of patterns by looking across the viewing habits of residents in roughly 3000 separate geographies; what emerges is a portrait of what Daniel Dayan once memorably termed the "map of an American Babel." Inspired by what Deb Verhoeven's notion of the "computational turn" in media studies, I augment the traditional reception studies with GIS and data analysis; in so doing, I assert the importance of cultural specificity – and difference – when understanding media audiences. Following Bourdieu, my analysis explores the production of capital within "the economy of prestige" and how the geography of taste is reproduced through cultural distinction.

Here, I focus on a set of seven films with greater-than-expected levels of variation within the geographical distribution of their popularity. Few critics would think to speak of Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys, Obsessed, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop as a coherent group; however, by tracing their cultural afterlives via the home video market, I demonstrate how we can see in their reception patterns evidence of the the unevenness of the topography of media consumption. Distinct patterns emerge through this kind of spatial analysis, leading me to argue that home video allows us to better understand both the degree to which media consumption is bound up in issues of race and class, but also the ways in which the residential segregation of America has influenced the strategies of its media industries.

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