April 4 – Networks, Maps, and Graphs

///April 4 – Networks, Maps, and Graphs
April 4 – Networks, Maps, and Graphs 2018-01-04T16:07:51-05:00

Class Plan

  • Carto Workshop led by Andrew Battista


Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London ; New York: Verso, 2005.
Moretti, F. “Graphs, Maps, Trees – Abstract Models for Literary History – 1.” New Left Review, no. 24 (November 2003): 67–93.
———. “Graphs, Maps, Trees – Abstract Models for Literary History – 2.” New Left Review, no. 26 (March 2004): 79–103.
———. “Graphs, Maps, Trees – Abstract Models for Literary History – 3.” New Left Review, no. 28 (July 2004): 43–63.

Goodwin, Jonathan, and John Holbo, eds. Sections 6, 11, 12, 15 in Reading Graphs, Maps & Trees: Responses to Franco Moretti. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2011.

Staley, David J. “Chapter 5: History Takes Shape” in Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technology Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2014.


Carto – https://carto.com

Google Earth – http://www.google.com/earth/

Palladio –  http://hdlab.stanford.edu/projects/palladio/.

Gephi – https://gephi.github.io



Visualizing 19th-Century New Yorkhttp://visualizingnyc.org/

Mapping the Republic of Lettershttp://republicofletters.stanford.edu/index.html

Workshop Information/Resources




  1. Alfo April 1, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    1. Moretti’s project: to echo the way the École des Annales understood History, buy applying his method to literature. In his first article on Graphs, he tries to draw a new Literary History by drawing ‘longue durée’ graphs based on literary production. But, isn’t literary readership more important than literary production? And also, isn’t the qualitative-non-quantitative value of the Canon somewhat more influential in Literary History?

    2. Moretti’s literary evolution trees —diagrams, for Darwin— are based on a comparison with evolution of language. Moretti seems to avoid the fact that literature’s raw material (books) are historically/not naturally produced by humans and their divers socioeconomic systems. Is it weird that this made me think about social darwinism?

    3. The responses to Moretti are all witty, yet surprisingly tender. But of all the comments, I fetch Jenny Davison’s rhetorical question: “The vast quantitative-collaborative research project whose virtues Moretti propounds has something Pied-Piper-esque about it; without Moretti’s own imagination and critical intelligence and deep knowledge of world literature driving it, doesn’t the soul go out of the whole enterprise?” Indeed, in his noble defense of quantitative analysis, Moretti does not see his own qualitative value as a scholar, guiding the whole project.

  2. Jane Excell April 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    1) A common response to Graphs, Maps, Trees seems to be a desire to connect Moretti’s large-scale distant reading to a very zoomed-in look at how our brains process text. Here are some excerpts from the readings that express this:

    William Benzon: “However visible the texts, the mind’s mechanisms are hidden. Moretti’s maps tell us something of how the mind finds the world. But just how is it that the world makes its way into the mind there to be transformed into texts? That process remains invisible” (62).

    Steven Berlin Johnson “You can’t analyze the literary system purely from the bird’s eye-view of distant reading. You need to zoom in as much as you need to zoom out: all the way to the human brain itself” (83)

    This sounds interesting, but I’m not sure I’m completely grasping why they feel that it’s necessary. Isn’t zooming in to the level of the human brain just doing a different kind of work than what Moretti is trying to achieve? I don’t see the need for his explanations to be supplemented by a psychological (?) examination of the text’s effect- why do these authors feel that this is a crucial addition?

    2) Another common thread I found interesting in the responses to Graphs, Maps, Trees was the question of whether a project like this could succeed without the personal insights that Moretti brings to it:

    Jenny Davidson: “without Moretti directing the whole enterprise, the prospects for communal enrichment come to look rather more bleak” (88).

    Sean McCann: “There will be no school of Moretti, because only Moretti will prove able to do what’s on display here” (108).

    I hadn’t thought of this while reading the book, but I think they make a strong point; a great deal of this project seems to hinge on Moretti’s personal brilliance and discernment, not to mention his wonderful ability to convey what he’s done and why so clearly. Is it a detraction to his method if it seems to depend at least somewhat on his personal ability?

    3) Staley writes that the Venus of Willendorf figure “is not a representative image, but instead a picture of an idea, a rudimentary form of abstract visualization” (136). I understand “abstract visualization” as the embodiment of a concept or set of ideas, but I guess I’m not always 100% clear on the distinction between this and a “representative image”. Can a representative image be an abstract visualization, or must they be discrete?

  3. Cat April 4, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    1. Steven Berlin Johnson notes that says that in distant reading, he suspects that “the cognitive sciences will be more relevant than evolutionary psychology, despite the fact that the Darwinian approach to literature has been attracting all the buzz lately.” I am curious—has this happened in the 10 years since this was published?

    2. And if so, has cognitive sciences in distant reading been successful?

    3. Sean McCann comments: “Personally, I won’t be much disappointed if literary scholarship never really resembles scientific investigation… I’m not sure a more rational form of literary history is needed.” As I think about it more, I agree. Have others moved away from this idea of “scientific” close reading? Are people careful about not using the language specifically? Or is the idea of a more scientific reading still important to literary scholars?

  4. phyllis plitch April 4, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Staley talks about effective uses of GIS Mapping, such as the Dust Bowl study cited on page 140 that purportedly showed that the Dust Bowl was not human-made. “In this case, GIS mapping is meaningful for its historiographic effects.” Does such GIS mapping cited in this and other examples increase or decrease the chances of data being gamed to lead to a preordained conclusion? Does a strong visual make it harder to uncover problematic data? If it can potentially lead to an increase in problematic conclusions, are there any particularly egregious examples? Further, how can a reader critically analyze such visuals to get at the so-called-truth since data complexities are hard for a reader or outside observer to deconstruct inside of a visual?

  5. Whitney April 4, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    1.) Does anyone else feel like Moretti undermines the artistic ability of representation in literature to depict the human condition beyond the individual’s case? In “Graphs, Maps, Trees”, Moretti says of literature that “a field this large cannot be understood by stitching together separate bits of knowledge about individual cases, because it is not a sum of individual cases: it’s a collective system, that should be grasped as such, as a whole.” The problem I find here is in his definition of a collective as something beyond a collection of singular units – because each piece of literature spans far beyond itself in it’s ability to represent wholes.

    2.) I also find Moretti problematic in his assertion that “quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations, but this is also its limit: it provides data not interpretations.” While there is always the possibility of gross human error, do we really want to reach a point where data interprets itself in regard to humanistic readings of literature? Is that even possible if the initial coding created to do so has its foundations in human-written code?

    3.) The last Moretti quote that I want to unpack is this: “with a little luck, maps become more than the sum of their parts”. To go back to my individual question – can there even be a total sum without individual parts? Do maps not require spatial representation in the way Staley defines this in Chapter 5 of “Computers, Visualizations, and History”?

  6. Lauren April 4, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    1) There are many parts with in a map, each piece adds to the rich texture that makes up the full story. Is using this very structured format to represent the data stripping the work down in a way that allows too much of the reading of the work be forced via the choice of the representation. When you have this many layers of the maps, trees, and graph is the assembling of the many pieces the only interesting piece and the full story only happens when we pull it together. Are the kind of graphs that are readable to humans the same kind of graphs that you would use for this sort of analysis? Moretti takes a pretty strong stance on who can create and decode these graphs but isnt putting it into the graphical form just a new way to propose question rather than force direct answers.
    2) When do the maps, trees, and graphs become more interesting in their shape than their content they displayed? How much does picking one view influence the lens you look at? Do we teach enough about graph literacy to allow this to be the direction that we explain rich subject matters through?
    3) When reading these texts I became fascanited in thinking about how the tools that create them become used and what are the features you would need to be able to hand these tools to a scholar to showcase their work in. How do you share these graphs? what is the way to annotate them ? to share is it still mostly moving into a pdf and then printing it? How do you make these graphs interactives? is this what voyant does in some aspect? how often are people developing on these tools? who are the main users? What is the community around the evoluation of the tools? Is the rate at which these tools being developed an important staple to the path for digital humanities

  7. Hannah May 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    The Visualizing 19th Century New York is of particular interest for me, mostly because my public history course went to the Museum of the City of NY and there is a section of the NY At Its Core exhibit that has to do with mapping. I obviously have been thinking a lot about maps, what they mean, and how they can be used.

    I’m not so sure about Moretti’s notion that quantitative data is somehow truth. I think anyone that has taken a statistics course can see that quantitative data can be interpreted, and a good interpreter will bolster their argument more effectively, but it is by no means “truth.”

    I find it problematic, throughout a lot of the readings this notion that these tools will somehow uncover some sort of unseen truth, when in actuality they are tools that perhaps bolster an argument, or lead you to new discoveries, but ultimately are subject to human error and interpretation.

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