Professor Daniel Gordon will be a Visiting Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago's Textual Optics Lab
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
History Professor Daniel Gordon will be a Visiting Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago's Textual Optics Lab in the summer of 2019. The University of Chicago will provide air fare, lodging, and technical assistance in the lab during Gordon's stay.
The University of Chicago is a leader in the field of "digital humanities," especially in the area of French studies. The university has partnership, called American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL), with the French government. ARTFL develops large databases as well as programs for searching through them.
In the 1980S, Gordon was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and worked for French professor Robert Morrissey who founded ARTFL. "One of my jobs was to write the first user's manual for ARTFL's program, a program that allowed scholars to search for all occurrences of a given word or string of words in the database of French texts. Today, of course, the program is intuitive; just as personal computers no longer come with user's manuals, no instructions are needed to begin using ARTFL's search mechanisms."
Gordon also explained how his own research involves databases. "Throughout my career, I have paid attention to the emergence and popularization of key terms in political discourse: terms like "social," "public opinion," and "civilization." Textual databases allow one to trace the appearance of these terms and to assess how a given author uses the terms differently from many other writers."
Gordon recently edited The Anthem Companion to Tocqueville, to be published by Anthem Press in the fall of 2019. In one of his own contributions to the volume, "Tocqueville and Linguistic Innovation," Gordon focused on how Tocqueville, a writer usually portrayed as linguistically conventional, deployed neologisms, or new terms, such as "individualism" and "democratic literature."
Gordon notes, "Tocqueville's use of the adjective 'democratic' was revolutionary. No one had applied it to anything other than the political constitution before. Tocqueville spoke of 'democratic theater,' 'democratic passions,' 'the democratic family,' etc. Tocqueville conceived of democracy as a government, a society, and a culture. He thus raised 'democracy' to the status of a master sociological category, as Marx would do for capitalism. In fact, Tocqueville's political sociology remains the primary alternative to Marx's economic sociology."
Gordon stated that the fellowship in Chicago will be valuable for two reasons. "First, the University of Chicago has some databases of French texts that are not yet available to the general public. Secondly, I'd like to transition from studying vocabulary to syntax. For example, instead of just focusing on how Tocqueville used the adjective "democratic" differently from previous political thinkers, I'd like to assess how he uses adjectives in general differently from, say, Marx. Overall, I need to sharpen my knowledge of linguistics, especially of syntax and its possible importance in political theory. And then I hope to use the databases to figure out how Tocqueville, and other authors who interest me at this time, made creative moves with both their vocabulary and their syntax."
In addition to summer work on Tocqueville, Gordon plans to complete an article he was commissioned to write for The Oxford History of International Relations. The article will cover the eighteenth century and will give special attention to proposals for the creation of an international government along the lines of the current United Nations.