Behind the Scenes of the Spectators: Uncovering Anonymous Authors in Periodicals of the Enlightenment

lightning talk
  1. 1. Elisabeth Hobisch

    Karl-Franzens Universität Graz (University of Graz)

  2. 2. Martina Scholger

    Karl-Franzens Universität Graz (University of Graz)

  3. 3. Alexandra Fuchs

    Karl-Franzens Universität Graz (University of Graz)

  4. 4. Bernhard C. Geiger

    Know-Center GmbH

  5. 5. Philipp Koncar

    TU Graz (Graz University of Technology)

  6. 6. Sanja Saric

    Karl-Franzens Universität Graz (University of Graz)

Work text
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The Spectator press is a pan-European periodical genre of the 18th century renowned for the deliberate play of authorial disguise: instead of writing under their real names, the spectatorial authors introduce a fictitious author-character. In the most prominent model of these periodicals – The Spectator (1711-1712, 1714) – the real authors, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, create the fictitious author-character of ‘Mr. Spectator’ who, as an anonymous and confidence inspiring observer, communicated with the readers by exchanging letters with them. Yet, not only Addison and Steele but also other collaborators hid behind the eidolon of ‘Mr. Spectator’. However, the real authors tagged the individual issues by a code of letters, which enables the readers of the time and contemporary literary scholars to attribute issues of respective periodicals to a specific author (cf. Rau 1980, 74).Throughout the 18th century, all Spectator emulations adopted the mask of the fictitious author, but largely lacked these authorial markers, making it difficult to attribute them to a specific author with close reading literary analysis methods. To counteract this problem, distant reading methods, such as stylometry, can provide significant insights into the text corpus of the pan-European Spectator press, especially regarding the attribution of presumably anonymous and collaborative authorship.The publicly available digital edition of the European Spectators, implemented at the University of Graz, contains more than 3.500 single issues of periodicals in Spanish (647 issues), French (1672 issues), and Italian (1320 issues) which are encoded using the standard of the Text Encoding Initiative. Many of the periodicals are published anonymously or by a group of authors. Based on this corpus, the Distant Spectators project, a cooperation of the Centre for Information Modelling, Institute of Romance Studies (both University of Graz), the Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science (Graz University of Technology) and the Know-Center Graz, examines the application of various distant reading methods to a multilingual literary corpus and cross-

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2020
"carrefours / intersections"

Hosted at Carleton University, Université d'Ottawa (University of Ottawa)

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

July 20, 2020 - July 25, 2020

475 works by 1078 authors indexed

Conference cancelled due to coronavirus. Online conference held at Data for this conference were initially prepared and cleaned by May Ning.

Conference website:


Series: ADHO (15)

Organizers: ADHO