Reading 100 Plays at the Same Time: Encounters as Micro­networks in Literature


Zephyr Frank

Department of History

Stanford University


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

12:00 – 1:15PM

Smith Warehouse – Bay 4, C105 “Garage”


Erving Goffman used the language of theater, and a close analysis of what happens on stage, to generate a theory of social experience. This paper adopts Goffman’s approach, based on elementary “strips” of interaction, and repurposes it for the quantitative study of plays as micro-encounters that build into macro-structures. The encounter provides a computational signal and an interpretive concept in the “window,” an arbitrarily cut strip of a given number of speeches in a play. As the window moves through the play, a micro-network is built based on the speech-acts within the window’s range. While the overall network of a play can reveal something about a play’s social and dramatic structure, the window helps us capture, quantitatively, the basic units of social experience that go toward creating those larger structures. The window also allows for the comparison of many plays of varying length and structure, putting, for example, the Ancients, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Brazilian playwrights together in a new analytical frame. Zephyr Frank is an Associate Professor of History at Stanford University, Director of the Spatial History Project, and the principal investigator for the Terrain of History project. He is also the director of CESTA. The Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), an interdisciplinary collective of labs operates independently of any one particular home department, and is organizationally housed within the Dean of Research at Stanford University.


Co-Sponsored by Information Science + Information Studies and the Triangle Digital Humanities Consortium