Sarah Bärtschi, „Combining distant and close reading to represent, measure and analyze the corpus of Alexander von Humboldt.“

, 11:00 am to

Meeting of the GCDH Digital Text Analysis Working Group, Heyne Haus Seminarraum 1


Alexander von Humboldt published about 680 articles from 1788 to 1859 in newspapers and magazines. These texts, printed in 157 periodicals, are written in different genres and to different target groups, are multilingual and multidisciplinary. In my talk, I first present how I applied quantitative methods to this corpus, especially “distant reading” (Franco Moretti), to grasp, visualize and describe its complexity and heterogeneity in general: the quantitative distribution of texts during time, the geographical extension, translations and the spectrum of disciplines.

Then I show by an example an approach to describe Humboldt’s style of research and his scientific development during his lifetime. How can we determine the discussed disciplines in each article? How can we represent Humboldt’s inter-, multi- and transdisciplinarity visually? In combining “close” and “distant reading”, I go in a first step close to every text to identify key words. In a second step, I excerpt this vocabulary, which then can provide a distant reading digital analysis of the corpus. I discuss how this method and others that I will develop can give rise to a revealing overview of Humboldt’s work and can be applied to corpora of other scientists and authors to further reveal content and environmental aspects of their lives and works.