ViTA: Visualization for Text Alignment

A preliminary outcome of our Commonplace Cultures Digging into Data project, we have developed a web-based visual analytics system called ViTA: Visualization for Text Alignment. Hosted by the Oxford e-Research Centre at the University of Oxford, ViTA is a web-based visual analytics interface that enables domain experts to construct a text alignment pipeline, visualize the components and connections for any given method (i.e., an alignment model) using image processing techniques, and then test assumptions about the corresponding inputs and outputs. Rather than visualizing the alignment results in a post hoc manner – as is often the case with many available alignment packages – ViTA’s interactive pipeline editing facility essentially becomes a visual programming interface from which users can iteratively build and export more efficient text alignment methods.

ViTA Editor panel

ViTA Editor panel

Screen shot of a ViTA text alignment

Screen shot of a ViTA text alignment

We are hoping to use the ViTA interface to refine our existing PhiloLine-PAIR alignment algorithms, with the goal of identifying ‘commonplaces’ and other forms of large-scale text reuse in the Gale-Cengage Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database. A classic ‘big data’ humanities collection, ECCO currently contains more than 32 million digitized pages from 182,898 titles in 205,639 volumes.

The Passion of Charles Péguy

I am delighted to announce that my first book, The Passion of Charles Péguy: Literature, Modernity, and the Crisis of Historicism is now available from Oxford University Press. Those of you in Australia & New Zealand can purchase the book at a 30% discount using this promotional flyer.
Summary: In many ways, the development of twentieth-century literary criticism and theory can be seen as a prolonged struggle against the pervading influence of nineteenth-century positivist historicism. Anglo-American New Criticism and later French Post-structuralism and Deconstruction are the best-known instances of this conflict. Less widely known, but no less important to contemporary literary studies, are Charles Péguy’s earlier debates with French academic historicism in the years leading up to World War One. First examined by Antoine Compagnon in his ground-breaking work La Troisième République des lettres in 1983, it is a period in French literary and cultural history that remains, some thirty years later, largely untreated in English. This book thus addresses an important, albeit relatively unexplored, moment in the development of twentieth-century literary history and theory. By way of Péguy’s foundational polemics with modernity and his role in the related ‘crisis of historicism’, we gain a better understanding of the critical basis from which similar anti-positivist and anti-historicist critiques were later enacted on both sides of the Atlantic. In situating Péguy’s passions and polemics within the larger cultural and historical context, Glenn H. Roe invites us to reconsider and re-evaluate Péguy’s place among twentieth-century literary figures. Beyond its literary-critical aspects, The Passion of Charles Péguy provides a general view of early twentieth-century debates related to the role of literary studies in modern society, the reform of the French educational system, and the formation of literary history as an academic discipline in both France and abroad.

Digging into Data

I am very pleased to be one of the co-investigators for a winning project in the third round of the Digging into Data Challenge, an international grant scheme that brings together teams working in computer science and the humanities in the US, Canada, UK, and Netherlands. Our project, “Commonplace Cultures: Mining Shared Passages in the 18th Century using Sequence Alignment and Visual Analytics”, aims to explore 18th-century literary culture through the lens of the early modern practice of commonplacing. Leveraging previous work on data mining and automatic classification of Enlightenment texts (link), machine learning approaches to textual borrowings and source criticism in the 18th century (link), sequence alignment techniques for identifying intertextuality (link) and citation practices in the Encyclopédie (link), we plan to use these same approaches to examine commonplaces and to visualise their deployment over the largest collection of 18th-century works ever assembled.

This project is a partnership between the ARTFL Project and Computation Institute (CI) at the University of Chicago and the University of Oxford’s e-Research Centre (OeRC) and Voltaire Foundation (VF). Bringing together world-class centres for Enlightenment studies (ARTFL, VF) and multi-disciplinary computing applications (CI, OeRC), the team consists of 18th-century scholars: Robert Morrissey (PI, Chicago) and Nicholas Cronk (Co-I, Oxford); computer scientists: Min Chen (PI, Oxford) and Ian Foster (Co-I, Chicago); and digital humanists: Mark Olsen (Chicago), and me (ANU), among other participants.

See the new Project Website for more updates.

TOUT Voltaire…

09The Voltaire Foundation, in collaboration with the ARTFL Project, is pleased to announce the public release of the TOUT VOLTAIRE online database. This database brings you in fully searchable form all of Voltaire’s works apart from his correspondence (which can be searched separately, in Electronic Enlightenment).

Currently publishing the Complete works of Voltaire in print, the Voltaire Foundation plans to unveil an online version of this definitive critical edition sometime after 2018. In the meantime, this plain text version of Voltaire’s writings (without critical apparatus or notes) is the most reliable version available anywhere on the web.

The various editions used to establish this database are clearly marked: from the Voltaire Foundation’s own Complete works of Voltaire to nineteenth-century editions by Beuchot and Moland, among others. When possible we have included Voltaire’s notes, as well as some textual variants depending on the edition. Pagination, however, is often not representative of the print editions, so if you wish to cite Voltaire for scholarly purposes, you should always consult the list of the best critical editions currently available.

The TOUT VOLTAIRE database is built using ARTFL’s full-text search and retrieval engine PhiloLogic, one of the oldest and most successful text analysis systems in the digital humanities. With a wide variety of search and reporting functions, users can look for words, groups of words, or phrases over Voltaire’s entire corpus, or in individual works (and even parts of works). Results can be displayed in context, as frequency reports (by title, by decade, etc.), or as a collocation table and word cloud.

Example searches could include:

For more search tips, please visit the PhiloLogic user manual.

This research tool is made available free of charge by the Voltaire Foundation (University of Oxford) and the ARTFL Project (University of Chicago). If you wish to make a contribution to our work, please contact the Voltaire Foundation.

Australian Society for French Studies

21st Annual conference of the Australian Society for French Studies

9–11 December 2013
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia


Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Marc Augé
    The anthropological gaze and fieldwork of Marc Augé has focussed on societies from the Ivory Coast to Paris. The celebrated author of Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, In the Metro and Oblivion, Augé coined the term “non-places” to designate ambivalent transit spaces (airport lounges, hotel rooms, supermarkets) that do not inspire feelings of belonging or lasting social relations among the majority of those who pass through.
  • Dr Charlotte Dejean-Thircuir of Université Stendhal – Grenoble 3 is an expert in the fields of teaching French as a foreign language (FLE) and distance education. She is the director of Stendhal’s two programmes in FLE which are taught in distance mode. She has researched and published on student-tutor interaction online; learner communities online; peer-guided learning online. 


  • Emeritus Professor Peter Cryle, founding director of the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland, is a scholar of intellectual and cultural history. His current work focuses on the historical emergence of the idea of the normal in nineteenth-century European thinking, especially in France and Italy. This research is focussed on medical and anthropological texts, and is funded by an ARC grant shared with Elizabeth Stephens. He also has a strong interest in French fiction, including middle-brow fiction of the nineteenth century and libertine literature of the eighteenth.