The Armed Services Editions: Computational Analysis

The Armed Services Editions are a collection of over 1,500 titles provided to American servicemen during World War II. Compiled, produced, and provided by the Council on Books in Wartime, these books were seen as “weapons in the war on ideas” and were meant to provide soldiers with the spiritual and intellectual tools to wage war ideologically. These are, of course, loaded terms, that raise increasingly important questions about the uses of art and literature for political purposes. What is a democratic idea? What might “democracy” look like in literature? What makes “democratic” books different from “non-democratic” books—and how can we tell?

These are the underlying questions of the project, but much important book historical groundwork must be laid until these questions can be answered. To date, there has been no substantial study of the Armed Services Editions as a collection. Scholars have considered the importance of the ASEs in their historical context (see Paula Rabinowitz, American Pulp), their role in the history of the book (John B. Hench, Books as Weapons) and their role on reading (When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning); individual texts, of course, will always remain fascinating to scholars. Distant reading and computational analytics, however, make it possible to study the content of the corpus as a whole, helping us see how the features of a collection of individual texts operate within an institutional history.

The project involved compiling the corpus of ASEs, bringing together both full-texts and word counts of over 1,000 titles. This work-in-progress version begins the work of analyzing the ASEs, helping to flesh out some of the unstudied components of the corpus. The project focused on the analysis of three distinct dynamics of the corpus—in regards to gender, genre, and geography—to begin to describe the collection in greater detail. In so doing, the project is laying the groundwork for more detailed, advanced analysis.

Laura McGrath

2015-2016 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort PhD Candidate, Department of English