From MIT News:
Before computers, no sane person would have set out to count gender pronouns in 4,000 novels, but the results can be revealing, as MIT’s new digital humanities program recently discovered.
Launched with a $1.3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Program in Digital Humanities brings computation together with humanities research, with the goal of building a community “fluent in both languages,” says Michael Scott Cuthbert, associate professor of music, Music21 inventor, and director of digital humanities at MIT.
To illustrate the kind of work the lab can do, the program enlisted a team of 24 students (mostly first-years) through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to study gender representation in 19th century English literature. The team assembled metadata, applied grammar-parsing tools, did web scraping, wrote analysis tools, and ultimately examined 4,217 books — a total of 326.9 million words.
One interesting finding from the “Gender/Novels” experiment was that — regardless of the sex of the author and “no matter how we cut the data,” as Cuthbert says — roughly two-thirds of all male pronouns were in the subject position, whereas women were more often the object of the sentence. What these new data tell us — about men, women, and society — is up to human scholars to decide, but this project provides a window into the ways computational work can support humanities research.
See Also: Digital Humanities at MIT