Mapping the Global Renaissance with 53,829 Texts

Redefining our understanding of a squarely humanistic problem: the history of race in Shakespeare’s era.

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“Mapping a Global Renaissance with 53,829 Texts” redefines our understanding of a squarely humanistic problem: the history of race in Shakespeare’s era. By analyzing thousands of texts beyond the scope of a single famous author, such as Shakespeare or Milton, and even the capacity of the individual reader, I tell a very different story about the multiple discourses of race that helped motivate England’s earliest efforts to define its place in a global context in the era before colonialism.

My primary technique, Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) is a topic modeling algorithm that identifies clusters of words exhibiting a disproportionately high probability of occurring together in all texts discussing place names in the 53,829 texts of the Early English Books Online corpus. My results affirm and complicate recent postcolonial accounts of Shakespeare’s world by redefining the ideology of race in a more nuanced way than along the faultlines of identity politics. Through this methodology, I articulate an unfamiliar Renaissance vision of race by challenging the basic assumption that ethnic otherness has always been built upon a bedrock of bodily difference.

The pre-modern idea of race was structured by a logic of place. Geography, and not skin color or anatomy, was the dominant factor in setting the terms of the debate. The primary question was how space, landscape, latitude, climate, and a location’s flora and fauna shaped a culture, its people, and their bodies. These results suggest the focus on the body as the measuring stick of racial ideologies should be understood as an invention of a colonialist worldview, and that historical alternatives to understand race in different terms exist. This study thus opens up a critical space to reanimate historically significant but unfamiliar models of race that we have lost in the postcolonial world.

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