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Coded Violence: Topic Modeling for Gendered Language in Early Modern Texts

Fri, March 31, 5:30 to 7:00pm, Palmer House Hilton, Floor: Third Floor, Salon 12


This paper explores how digital tools, and topic modeling in particular, can help us measure and render violence against female bodies in early modern texts. Literary topic modeling projects thus far have prioritized recognizably thematic word clusters, dismissing other topic outputs as problematic. I instead demonstrate how "junk topics"—those that do not align as neatly with our standards of legibility—can be productive tools for revealing the often coded and implicit registers of violence against women in the early modern archive. Taking Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline as my central examples, this paper will demonstrate how "junk topics" reveal literary and structural patterns that prompt new close readings of gendered violence in these plays. This paper intervenes in early modern feminist studies, while also engaging with digital text analysis practices by proposing a method of topic modeling that attends to the semantically opaque rather than the semantically evident.