Jillian Sayre contends that Herman Melville’s whaling ship Pequod and its encounters with other boats at sea may have toted meaning beyond the characters onboard.
An associate lecturer of English at UW–Madison, Sayre is using computing in innovative ways to glean new insight from the literary classic “Moby Dick,” examining whether networks of the book’s nautical vessels and the complex worlds they represent can help us better understand the text’s preoccupation with communication and connectivity.
But she’s not alone. Sayre represents a growing number of researchers on campus introducing computational approaches to their work. Unlike other universities with formal departments, certificate programs or endowments for digital humanities scholarship, UW–Madison has the grassroots Humanities Hackathon, an ongoing transdisciplinary collaboration between the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and the Center for the Humanities.
More than 70 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, and staff from both the humanities and the sciences gather outside the classroom throughout the year at monthly “hacks” to uncover unexpected connections and intriguing patterns in music, visual art, literature and historical works (think studying Shakespeare quantitatively, not just qualitatively).
This week, the partnership’s second annual Hackathon summer short course asks participants to look, listen, read and play — digging into data sets from music, texts, images and video games that can be explored with computational techniques. The group will also examine each other’s data sets for a collective learning experience.