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Dr. Joshua Waxman Develops the Process for Finding Leitworte

Portrait of Dr. Joseph WaxmanDr. Joshua Waxman, assistant professor at Stern College for Women, presented a peer-reviewed short paper at the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale (AIUCD) 2020 Conference  titled “Leitwort Detection, Quantification and Discernment” at the 2019 Digital Humanities Conference held Jan. 15-17, 2020, in Milan, Italy. The paper is co-authored and co-presented by Racheli Moskowitz ’19S and Moriyah Schick, a current student at Stern College.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

A Leitwort (“leading word”) is a word or word-root deliberately repeated as a literary technique, for the sake of emphasis or to establish an underlying theme. Leitworte occur in many different works of literature, and traditional humanists who work to interpret those texts apply their literary expertise to discern those occurrences and explain their function. There is an element of subjectivity involved, and so, working from a digital humanities perspective, we developed an algorithm to detect potential Leitworte and rate their significance, by counting repetitions within a moving window and calculating tf-idf scores for candidate words. This reflects a convergence of humanistic and computer science methodologies. By compiling a list of Leitworte identified by an expert traditional literary scholar and then comparing it to the list produced by our computational approach, we attempt to (a) evaluate the subjective work of a particular human scholar against an objective standard, (b) consider whether the algorithmic approach we chose was sophisticated enough to match honed scholarly discernment, and (c) reflect on the difference between a traditional and digital humanities approach. In particular, we examine the Hebrew Bible and the Leitworte identified by Umberto Cassuto, an Italian Biblical scholar.