Welcome to launchd, a blog about some of the background processes that shape the study of literature here at UMass Amherst. Along with courses on medieval literature, paleography, and medieval Latin, I regularly teach a course on hacking and cryptography. We learn about the history of crypto (up to Diffy-Hellman) and the history of hacking (up to Anonymous). The connection of both to literature concerns systems. Computer design was influenced early on by a need to automate the decryption of military ciphers. Computer systems were built initially to compute linguistic systems. Later work in computerized text-processing and speech recognition was pursued by Noam Chomsky, Zelig Harris, Marvin Minsky, and others. A correspondence of neural and linguistic systems leads us to examine the way that we systematically organize behavior, specifically literary behavior. Computer programs that do Natural Language Processing help us to understand that behavior.

My main interest these days is in how we understand poetic utterances in their historical and social contexts. I’m working on a parser of Old English that will produce semantic field maps. I hope to be able to correlate these maps to similar maps generated from Latin texts. Perhaps one day we can chart precisely how a poem interacts with the processes of historical semantics.

Blog haphazardly maintained by Steve Harris, Department of English & former adjuct in the Department of German and Scandinavian Studies.

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