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The Humanities Go Google

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Stanford University Literature Lab

Students from Stanford University's Literature Lab analyze text from an 1809 novel by Hannah More.

Credit: Noah Berger / The Chronicle of Higher Education

Google's ambition to digitize all the world's books through its Google Books initiative is inspiring projects such as Stanford University's Literature Lab. The Literature Lab is an attempt to probe the evolution of literary style by bringing together a team of data-miners from the departments of English, history, and computer science, and have them use computer algorithms to sort, interrogate, and interpret some 1,000 digitized texts. Google has digitally archived more than 12 million books in more than 300 languages, and Stanford is hoping that projects such as the Literature Lab will give it the credibility to host a massive digital library that is being aggregated through the Google Books effort.

Also vying for such a prestigious honor is the HathiTrust, a digital library consortium whose leaders include the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Indiana University at Bloomington, and the University of California system.

However, Google Books has not developed the interfaces scholars require for massive digital manipulation, nor has it rigorously tagged its digitized content with metadata to ease classification and categorization. "What you may very well see is that [text-mining] becomes a more commonly accepted tool but not necessarily the center of the work of many people," says the Coalition for Networked Information's Clifford A. Lynch.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education
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