Project Name: Dictionary of Shyness
Grantee: Sophia Natasha Sunseri
Funding Cycle: 2017-2018
White Paper: White Paper_Sunseri
This project examines representations of shyness and willful acts of self-exclusion in literary and cultural texts of the long 18th century. Using word frequency mapping, topic modeling, and sentiment analysis to create an online crowdsourced dictionary of shyness, these tools would facilitate the presentation of statistically significant data on adjectival uses of the word “shy” which, prior to the 18th century, was primarily employed to refer to horses (and other animals who were characterized as skittish) rather than people. This project would explore the shift in the use of the word after it started being used to refer to people in the 18th century, but before it was pathologized as a medical condition associated with social phobias in the 19th century.
Word frequency mapping and topic modeling are conducive to an approach to shyness as a series of changing responses rather than a fixed condition in time, and situates it within a constellation of associative terms, values, affects, and behaviors. Sentiment analysis can measure 18th-century authors’ attitudes toward shyness, especially in ambiguous texts like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, a four-volume novel that was drastically revised in nine editions over a 20-year period from 1740-1760 based on the readers’ feedback and criticisms. The alternating portrayal of shyness in this novel is the pivot around which this novel can be read as either didactic or pornographic. By mapping Richardson’s uses of the word “shy” throughout all nine editions of Pamela, sentiment analysis would provide not only greater insight into Richardson’s dynamic and evolving relationship with that word, but also to the ways in which 18th-century readers may have reacted to representations of shyness.