Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital Lens


Quantitative tools in the humanities and the social sciences, as in other fields, are most powerful when they are controlled by an intelligent human. Experts with deep knowledge of a subject are needed to ask the right questions and to recognize the shortcomings of statistical models.

“You’ll always need both,” says Mr. Jockers, the literary quant. “But we’re at a moment now when there is much greater acceptance of these methods than in the past. There will come a time when this kind of analysis is just part of the tool kit in the humanities, as in every other discipline.”

Digital humanities, folks. (Interesting article, but I have to say, I would have loved to have seen LIS mentioned in this context, too.)

Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital Lens



Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Geoffrey Chaucer, often called the father of English literature.

“In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay 
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage 
To Canterbury with ful devout corage, 
At nyght was come into that hostelrye 
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye 
Of sundry folk, by aventure yfalle 
In felaweshipe, and pilgrims were they alle, 
That toward Canterbury wolden ryde.”

Geoffrey Chaucer immortalised the medieval pilgrimage and the diversity of 14th century English society in his Canterbury Tales. As each pilgrim takes his, or her, turn to tell their tale on the road to Canterbury, Chaucer brings to life the voices of a knight, a miller, a Wife of Bath and many more besides.

Chaucer was born the son of a London vintner, yet rose to high office in the court of Richard II. He travelled throughout France and Italy where he came into contact with the works of Dante, Boccaccio, Machaut and Froissart. He translated Boethius, wrote dream poetry, a defence of women and composed the tragic masterpiece Troilus and Criseyde. As well as the father of English literature, Chaucer was also a philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat.

So what do we know of Chaucer? How did he introduce the themes of continental writing to an English speaking audience? And why does his poetry still seem to speak so directly to us today?

With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Helen Cooper, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge; Ardis Butterfield, Reader in English at University College London.