Exploring Aesthetic Communities with Text Mining and Data Visualization: The Program Era Project and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Nicholas Kelly

How can Digital Humanities methods be used to explore the history of and artistic output of aesthetic communities and creative institutions like the Iowa Writers’ Workshop? The Program Era Project is an initiative at the University of Iowa working to create an online, public database of information on the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, its writers, and their works. The database combines University of Iowa archival records with data visualization tools and literary quantitative analysis methods. “Exploring Aesthetic Communities with Text Mining and Data Visualization” will document how the Program Era Project team has combined its text mining tools with a corpus of more than 1000 works written by prominent Workshop-affiliated writers, an in-copyright corpus made available only through a non-consumptive research collaboration with the HathiTrust Research Center. “Exploring Aesthetic Communities” will demonstrate how, through this collaboration, the Program Era Project team can combine the exploratory power of distant reading methods with its expansive database of institutional information gathered on the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The database allows users to compare and rank formal features of authors and works in the PEP corpus. Users can track geographic representational trends in an author’s work and compare it to biographical information about that author. Users can also examine corpus-level trends in Iowa Writers’ Workshop writing. “Exploring Aesthetic Communities” will conclude looking forward to the Program Era Project web presence, a public-facing research tool that will make Program Era Project data accessible to scholars, students, and literary history enthusiasts alike.