Bhattacharyya to speak at American Comparative Literature Association meeting

Sayan Bhattacharyya

Sayan Bhattacharyya, HathiTrust Research Center postdoctoral research associate, will speak during a panel titled, “What Do Comparative Literature and Digital Humanities Have To Say To Each Other? A Critical Approach,” which he co-organized, at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association. He will present his paper, “Small Data and Big Data: The Reflective in the Context of Text Analysis and the Humanities Classroom,” on Saturday, March 19.

Abstract: Comparison involves cognitively apprehending disparate concepts simultaneously and making judgements about similarity and difference. Entities can be usefully compared based on pragmatic criteria through acts of determinative judgement (to use a Kantian term), in which each entity is subsumed under an already known universal. Clustering together entities similar to each other and different from those in other clusters also involves pragmatics-driven determinative judgement. When the number of particulars at play is large, that is, in the domain of “big data,” machine learning algorithms are efficient at making such determinative judgements.

However, central to humanistic inquiry is reflective, rather than determinative, judgment—which is aesthetic, not pragmatic, and involves seeking to find unknown universals from given particulars, as in the case of a human reader finding a connection between two texts within a collection of texts. Such a reader-staged comparison or encounter between two specific texts—between “small data”—involves the aesthetic creation of new connections rather than the pragmatic discovery of existing connections. The paper will argue, with the help of an actual project that is in progress, that determinative, pragmatic practices enabled by computational analysis of big data do have a use in the humanities classroom, but that we should make them subservient to the need for developing students’ capacity for humanistic inquiry—which is accomplished by making student-led curation and annotation of “small data” central to humanities pedagogy.

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