Stanford Receives Major Mellon Foundation Award to be hosted at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA)

The Data that Divides Us: Recalibrating Data Methods for New Knowledge Frameworks Across the Humanities

A project overseen by Professors Giovanna Ceserani (Classics), Mark Algee-Hewitt (English), Grant Parker (Classics and African & African American Studies), and Laura Stokes (History) will be supported by a prestigious grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will provide up to $224,000 for a year of programming. The Mellon Seminar entitled The Data that Divides Us: Recalibrating Data Methods for New Knowledge Frameworks Across the Humanities will convene scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and personal standpoints to discuss the data that has saturated our world.

“We are just thrilled,” said the faculty PIs. “The Sawyer Seminar allows us to support a sustained group conversation, including postdoc and graduates, and is a boon for CESTA and more in general the digital humanities and the crossing of data and humanities on our campus. And we are eagerly looking forward to a full year of critical conversations with our colleagues, students, and various communities.”

The PIs are interested in how the latency of values involving gender, race, class, and the medical normal are encoded within existing data sets and the methodologies used to analyze them. In a series of workshops, the seminar will interrogate the underlying assumptions in the collection, conceptualization, and application of data as these have developed in the last three centuries.

How has this data shaped contemporary manifestations of historical divisions even as it has created new social, cultural, and political fissures? And how might data help us to redress or speak across the very divisions that it has engendered?

Crucial to the success of the seminar will be the involvement of emerging scholars. For this reason, the Mellon Sawyer award supports early-career fellows who will conduct research in parallel with seminar. The selected fellows represent a variety of disciplinary backgrounds in the humanities.

The seminar’s postdoctoral scholar is Dr. Nichole Nomura, who works at the intersection of English literature and education, studying science fiction’s interdisciplinary pedagogical affordances and the datafication of English language in difficulty metrics.

The two graduate fellows are Chloé Brault (Comparative Literature), and Matt Warner (English).

Chloé’s dissertation connects North America to the Caribbean through literary and argumentative writing that broadly thematizes blackness. She argues that Montreal was the unexpected setting that empowered Aimé Césaire, Dany Laferrière, and Pierre Vallières to imagine political futures that radically differed from those envisioned during the U.S.-Civil Rights movement. She uses computational tools to measure how the language around the books she analyzes changed between the 1970s and 2020s, and how it stayed the same. By studying race constructs within North America, but outside the U.S.-American context, Chloé offers new avenues for Race and Ethnicity Studies from the perspective of Francophone Studies.

Matt’s research uses queer theory and computational and statistical methods to explore the popular circulation, recommendation, and reception of queer literature in the 20th and 21st centuries. Matt’s work argues for the affective importance of counting, tabulation, and bibliography for queer readers, and connects contemporary internet book recommendations to a longer history of queer bibliography.   

The seminar will develop and showcase alternative, polycentric possibilities of data humanities work for a more just future and a more just engagement with collective memory and the past. These investigations are crucial at this historical moment, as the nascent data humanities are building the archive of the future.