Viral Texts Project: Laura Newman Eckstein

Posted July 9th, 2014 at 1:51 pm.

This post is part a series of blog posts by the Tri-Co DH Summer ’14 Interns. Laura Eckstein (HC ’16) is working with Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks.


Hi! My name is Laura Newman Eckstein. I am a rising junior at Haverford College and also a Tri-Co Digital Humanities Fellow working on the Viral Texts Project at Northeastern University.

What’s the Viral Texts Project you may ask? Viral Texts is a project that looks at the reprinting and spread of 19th century newspapers and periodicals. During the 19th century newspapers would often do a printing in the morning and evening. However, they often didn’t have enough material to fill the paper so they would copy articles from other newspapers and magazines without giving their sources credit. Professor David A. Smith at Northeastern University devised an algorithm to find the reprints in the newspapers and periodicals from this period. With this algorithm, Professor Ryan Cordell and Professor Smith created a database of clusters of reprints from Chronicling America, a Library of Congress repository for old newspapers and magazines.

Photo credit: Northeastern University

Photo credit: Northeastern University

Now, how do I fit into this project? Well, I do GIS. GIS stands for geographic information system. This is a type of mapping where I can look at different layers on top of one another to see a pattern or to analyze phenomena. In this case, I am mapping how the different texts spread and am also looking at different transportation networks including railroads, post roads, telegraph lines, canals, and steamboat routes influenced the spread of texts during the 19th century.

Digital Scholarship Commons at  Northeastern University, Both show the workstation where I worked for 5 weeks.

Digital Scholarship Commons at Northeastern University, Both show the workstation where I worked for 5 weeks.

For the past 5 weeks I have been living and working at Northeastern University. Now, I am back home in Portland, Oregon working for another 5 weeks remotely. So far, I have found my work very interesting and challenging. The GIS analysis that is needed is very difficult and is actually an area of GIS that is not as developed. There are no easy answers. I have been doing a lot of reading to see how to best approach visualizing the data. However difficult, I truly feel that GIS does have something to contribute to this project. It’s really interesting to me to see the transportation networks develop as the texts go viral. It is clear, just from a basic visualization, that the more transportation networks that are around, the more likely a text is to be reprinted. GIS allows me to see these patterns. I can see the railroads, canals, telegraph lines, post roads on the map as the texts, each text with a different color point, start jumping from place to place. To be able to see these different transportation networks underneath the texts spreading is exactly why GIS is so useful. Part of the point of GIS is to be able to map layer on top of layer on top of layer and see how they interact. Here’s to another rewarding 5 weeks!

Filed under: TriCoDH Fellows by Archana Kaku

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