Fall 2016, University of Pittsburgh

Instructor: Zach Horton

This project seminar tackles cultural objects from a multi-scalar perspective.  How can we adequately analyze something as large as 27 years of The Simpsons?  How can we trace large scale change in a cultural form without losing sight of its vitally important minutiae?  Are close reading and distant reading compatible?  In this course we develop such a multi-scalar reading practice while collectively analyzing the flora and fauna of Emily Dickinson’s entire oeuvre, the full collection of all US presidential nomination speeches (back to Abraham Lincoln), and over 600 episodes of The Simpsons.


Collective Project 1: Topic Modeling U.S. Presidential Nomination Speeches

As a class, we generated a topic model for all U.S. presidential nomination speeches (from Abraham Lincoln onward, when they were available).  We then charted the most legible of those topic over the course of U.S. history, tracking their rise and fall.  We also broke topics down by political party, and students individually investigated anomalies and other odd patterns that emerged in the large scale data.  Some results of this project are collected here.

Collective Project 2: Mapping The Simpsons

Students built upon rich annotation data produced in the first iteration of this class (2013) with a new set of tags: gender, celebrities, intoxicants, and animals.  Each student watched different seasons, using a collectively agreed upon rubric to tag all instances of these themes in their respective episodes, keeping a running annotation in Google Docs.  All students then had access to this collectively generated annotation data to produce their final projects.  These were some of their projects:

Simpsons and Freudian Dream Theory

Lisa Simpson and Celebrity: How Famous Persons Serve a Purpose

The Simpsons and LGBTQ Culture

Gender in Springfield

The Satirical Simpsons: Predicting the Future?


And a slightly different project…

Was Emily Dickinson Bi?