Applying Macroanalysis to Individual Research Projects

I identified with this week’s readings as being something that I would be able to apply directly to my own interests and research topics. While reading Macroanalysis it became clear that I could use these methods for myself. Just thinking of the possibilities of thousands of transcribed cookbooks (much like last week’s assignment) and applying methods of text analysis and data mining to them, think of what we could do with the information. One of the major issues I have grappled with in my study of cookbooks and trying to find popular recipes and standard measurements and ingredients is deciding which cookbooks to look at. In my last paper on the history of baking apple pie I focused a lot on the Joy of Cooking as the be all, end all general cookbook for people interested in making pastry in the United States. By being able to compare hundreds and thousands of cookbooks side by side, looking for keywords such as “granny smith,” “butter,” “lard,” I would have had a much easier time delineating what the most popular recipes and techniques have been throughout history. Instead, I had to assume that in 20th century America, all women followed the standard piecrust presented in one cookbook, albeit a popular one. It also would be helpful in finding what recipes were most popular during specific time periods, information that could lead to broader analysis of food availability by region or cultural preference, in the same way that Jockers was first able to examine Irish-American authors, and later a broader range of texts.

I was further encouraged in reading about Martha Ballard’s diary and how that was digitized and analyzed. It seems that these methods would give the benefits of close reading, but also allow for a broad study of several hundred primary sources. In Macroanalysis I was mostly impressed with the layout of the book, the charts, his descriptions, it appeared as though he was doing what we read about last week by revealing his methods and the thought process behind his analysis. In doing so it allowed the work to feel more transparent, which I believe allowed me to connect it more to my own interests and resources I am working with.

I should also note that while there are several advantages (clearly) to these methods and presentation of them by the two digital humanists we have looked at, I could see where those involved in the postcolonial digital humanities discussion would have a hard time jumping on this macroanalysis bandwagon right away. Jockers was able to analyze works by authors from England, Ireland, Scotland, and the U.S. This lends the question of how long would it take and if anyone is working to digitize the writings and primary sources from other nations and outside of this white, mostly well-educated frame. What interests me as well is if these programs can be developed to look at different languages, even ones that don’t use typical Latin characters, and if they would be as effective as the one that was able to read Martha Ballard’s scrawl. I tried to do some searching on my own, but do we know if scholars are currently developing programs to counteract this apparent English-language dominance?

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