Distant Spectators

Distant Reading for Periodicals of the Enlightenment

Distant Spectators: Distant Reading for Periodicals of the Enlightenment

The enlightened Spectator press of the 18th century constitutes an important cultural heritage of the world. It complied with the democratic ideal of disseminating cultural and moral issues, techniques and practices within a non-academic audience, popularizing enlightened ideas, such as cosmopolitanism, tolerance, intellectual criticism, self-reflection and social responsibility.

Based on the existing text corpus of the digital scholarly edition of the Spectators, this cooperation between the Institute for Interactive Systems and Data Science, Graz University of Technology, the Know-Center GmbH Graz, and the Centre for Information Modelling - Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities (ZIM-ACDH) and the Institute for Romance Studies, both at the University of Graz, aims at investigating this multilingual corpus with computer-aided methods of quantitative text-analysis.

In the course of Distant Spectators (DiSpecs), it is expected that insights about the shift of topics over time and geographic distance as well as about stylistic features will allow for the formulation of statements about prominent trends and zeitgeist in the 18th century periodicals. Another focus is on the transnational transfer and development of this literary genre, while keeping geographical, cultural and temporal specifics under constant consideration.

Research Questions

The main objective of DiSpecs is to investigate how and which quantitative methods prove useful and efficient for the analysis of this multilingual corpus from the 18th century. This will be analysed by using these methods to answer the following research questions:

  • How have topics and narrativeforms changed over time and space?
  • What are the stylistic peculiarities of the Spectators?
  • What was en vogue at that time? Can variations in language style deliver statements about different authors?
  • Will we be able to identify and differentiate anonymous authors?
  • How can positive and negative expressions give insight into the overall attitude of a periodical?


To answer these questions, a range of methods from statistical analysis, natural language processing, text mining, machine learning and network analysis will be applied which we subsume under the term distant reading.

  • For a content-related analysis topic modeling is used to reveal topics in the Spectators texts.
  • Stylometric procedures will be applied to detect stylistic characteristics in the texts to determine similarities and differences of the discourses as well as anonymous editors of the periodicals.
  • Sentiment Analysis will be utilized to discern distinct literary stylistic means to convey positive and negative emotions expressed in the texts.
  • Network analysis is used to represent relations between authors, between topics and between periodicals in a graph.