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The Farber Gravestone Collection: Problems and Possibilities of Cultural Analytics

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Harry Brown

on 30 October 2013

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Transcript of The Farber Gravestone Collection: Problems and Possibilities of Cultural Analytics

Problems and Possibilities of Cultural Analytics
The Farber Gravestone Collection
Cultural Analytics
Cultural analytics
is the use of computational methods for the analysis of massive cultural data sets and flows.

Large samples
of cultural data yield a more inclusive knowledge of history and the present.

Large scale
cultural patterns
emerge, which remain invisible within small samples of data.

Emergent patterns
challenge theoretical concepts
and assumptions.
How does the notion of scale affect humanities and social science research? Now that scholars have access to huge repositories of digitized data—far more than they could read in a lifetime—what does that mean for research? (NEH, 2009)
Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Space

UCSD Institute for Telecommunications and
Information Technology (Calit2)

Software Studies Initiative
To begin with, this is an essay on literary history: literature, the old territory. . . . But within that old territory, a new object of study: instead of concrete, individual works, a trio of artificial constructs--graphs, maps, and trees--in which the reality of the text undergoes a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction. Distant reading, I have once called this type of approach; where distance is . . . a specific form of knowledge: fewer elements, hence a sharper sense of their overall connection.
trace the emergence and popularity of distinct novelistic genres over time.

correlate the deployment of distinct settings in the English village novel with processes of industrialization, urbanization, and consequent disintegration of traditional village life.

adopt the model of linguistic trees to trace the evolution of modern detective fiction.
Gravestone Collection

Maintained by the
American Antiquarian Society

Contains over
13,500 images
documenting more than 9,000 gravestones, most of which were made prior to 1800 in New England.

include Daniel and Jessie Lie Farber, Harriette Merrifield Forbes, and Dr. Ernest Caulfield.

accompanying the photographs include the name and death date of the deceased, the location of the stone, and information concerning the stone material, the iconography, the inscription, and (when known) the carver.
Archive is
Name of deceased
Date of death
Location of stone
Name of carver (if known)
Stone type
Stone size
Visual motif
Whether or not stone contains verse
The Worcester Family
Collection contains
75 images
of stones carved by Jonathan Worcester.

Images represent
49 individual stones
, distributed within a 40-mile radius of Harvard (including two sons and a daughter).

Dates on stones range from
1728 to1754

All 42 stones contain stylized
teardrop death's head
, juxtaposed with rosettes or spirals.

Only one stone contains an
Harvard, Massachusetts
Jonathan Worcester

Moses Worcester

Collection contains
126 images
of stones carved by Moses Worcester.

Images represent
68 individual stones
(including father, mother, two brothers, and a sister-in-law).

Dates on stones range from
1751 to 1784

Of 68 stones, 15 contain
teardrop death's heads
and 53 contain

13 stones, including father's, contain
Teardrop death's heads
appear on stones between 1751 and 1766.

appear on stones between 1756 and 1784.

The two
motifs overlap
between 1756 and 1766.
Allan I. Ludwig
Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and Its Symbols (1966)

Jonathan Worcester's
teardrop death's heads
represent the "ornamental style," conceived in rural Massachusetts and marked by refined abstract forms.

Moses Worcester's
represent the transition to the "provincial baroque style," imitative of European neoclassical forms.
cultural artifacts
rendered as data, insights formerly requiring intensive archival and field research emerge within hours.

With a large sample of cultural data available, the level of pattern recognition is
deeper and more accurate
Archive is
not searchable
by textual content.

Deep level frequency analysis
is impossible; frequency of stones with verse reveals nothing about the thematic or linguistic content of verse.
What now?

Data must be generated before we can analyze it.

Find or develop a program that can extract text from digital images.

Manually transcribe textual content from stones.

Crowd sourcing in class or with social media.

Use other archives, such as early American newspapers, to illuminate patterns and outliers the emerge from the Farber Collection.
Cultural analytics
literary study
Ludwig concludes that
stylistic transition
in New England stone carving occurs in 1770s; the Farber Collection reveals that it occurs a generation earlier, in 1750s.

Ludwig does not account for
frequency of epitaphs
; the Farber Collection reveals that increased versification accompanied the transition between the ornamental and provincial baroque styles.

Development of early New England stone carving had interrelated
visual and literary
What is
cultural analytics

How can we apply cultural analytics to a digital
archive like
The Farber Gravestone Collection

How can we generate
new data
to expand the
insights we can derive from existing archives?
Expanding the Data
What's happening in the 1750s?
every stone containing verse.

by occupant, date, accompanying text,
and theme.

In total,
1920 of ~9000 stones
in the Farber Collection contain verse; range of dates ~1650 to ~1850
What's happening in the

sample of 1920 stones
(~1650 to ~1850):
of stones (109) inscribed ~1650 to 1749
of stones (1811) inscribed1750 to ~1850

Increased versification
on stones after 1750.
Before 1750. . . .

verses (33%)
Psalm 112:6 (22%)
Revelation 14:13 (5%)
Other (6%)

Memento mori

verse (16%)
Important men: pastor, elder, teacher, merchant, physician (11%)
Virtuous women: wife, mother (5%)
John Howland (1672)
Michael Wigglesworth (1705)


Use of
figurative language
8 stones
containing figurative language

Plant or tree metaphor (3)

Structural metaphor: house, parliament, school (3)

Flight or wing metaphor (2)

Children's gravestones (6)
Shift in style of ornamental motifs in 1750s accompanied
by general
increase in versification
(see stone 880).

Use of
figurative language
in gravestone verse dramatically increased in 1750s

In early gravestones, figurative language was more frequently used on
children's gravestones

Further inquiry: relation between
Great Awakening
on the emergence of American popular verse; influence of changes in style and composition of sermons in 1730s-1740s on popular use of metaphors.
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