Topic Modeling the Hàn diăn Ancient Classics

2 Feb 2017  ·  Colin Allen, Hongliang Luo, Jaimie Murdock, Jianghuai Pu, XiaoHong Wang, Yanjie Zhai, Kun Zhao ·

Ancient Chinese texts present an area of enormous challenge and opportunity for humanities scholars interested in exploiting computational methods to assist in the development of new insights and interpretations of culturally significant materials. In this paper we describe a collaborative effort between Indiana University and Xi'an Jiaotong University to support exploration and interpretation of a digital corpus of over 18,000 ancient Chinese documents, which we refer to as the "Handian" ancient classics corpus (H\`an di\u{a}n g\u{u} j\'i, i.e, the "Han canon" or "Chinese classics"). It contains classics of ancient Chinese philosophy, documents of historical and biographical significance, and literary works. We begin by describing the Digital Humanities context of this joint project, and the advances in humanities computing that made this project feasible. We describe the corpus and introduce our application of probabilistic topic modeling to this corpus, with attention to the particular challenges posed by modeling ancient Chinese documents. We give a specific example of how the software we have developed can be used to aid discovery and interpretation of themes in the corpus. We outline more advanced forms of computer-aided interpretation that are also made possible by the programming interface provided by our system, and the general implications of these methods for understanding the nature of meaning in these texts.

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