The Great Unread: Untold Numbers


Art Piece (Carrie Roy): Wood sculpture, black walnut, 14.5” x 17.25” x 2.5”

Study in absence and fragility through black walnut wood.

Literary Perspective (Catherine DeRose):

Margaret Cohen, a French and Comparative Literature professor at Stanford University, coined the phrase “the great unread” to describe a body of texts that have, since the time of their production, become forgotten or unavailable. Franco Moretti, an English and Comparative Literature professor also at Stanford University, has applied the phrase in his computational analyses of nineteenth-century texts to discuss how distant reading can help us address the previously unaccounted for texts. More was written in the nineteenth century alone than a single human can ever read. And many of these texts did not survive, perhaps because of the materials on which they were printed, their limited print runs and low popularity, or some other reason. Our art piece, “The Great Unread: Untold Numbers,” calls attention to these missing texts.

Statistical Interpretation and Code (Fred Boehm):

Development of methods to account for missing data is a highly active research area in statistics. Three missingness concepts include:

1. missing completely at random
2. missing at random
3. not missing at random

In the case of Victorian literature, we expect the missingness to fall into the third category, "not missing at random". Unfortunately, this is the most difficult scenario. It translates into us having unknown unknowns, where we have insufficient information to even make good guesses about what is missing from the Victorian literature corpus.

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