About this Project

Project Title: Viral Texts – Mapping Networks of Reprinting in 19th-century Newspapers and Magazines

Description: The Viral Texts Project is still in the early stages of development. Its site will soon include data, visualizations, and interpretive prose drawn from the Viral Texts project, which seeks to develop theoretical models that will help scholars better understand what qualities—both textual and thematic—helped particular news stories, short fiction, and poetry “go viral” in nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines. During this period, texts published in newspapers and magazines were not typically protected as intellectual property, and so literary texts as well as other non-fiction prose texts circulated promiscuously among newspapers as editors freely reprinted materials borrowed from other venues. The Viral Texts Project is asking: What texts were reprinted and why? How did ideas—literary, political, scientific, economic, religious—circulate in the public sphere and achieve critical force among audiences? By employing and developing computational linguistics tools to analyze the large textual databases of nineteenth-century newspapers newly available to scholars, this project will generate new knowledge of the nineteenth-century print public sphere.

Viral Texts is sponsored by Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities.

Website: http://www.viraltexts.org/


Contribution to the DSG

More coming soon.


Contact Information

Primary contact: Ryan Cordell (r.cordell@neu.edu)


  • Ryan Cordell (Primary Investigator)
  • Elizabeth Maddock Dillon
  • Davis Smith
  • Abby Mullen
  • Peter Roby
  • Kevin Smith
  • Matthew Williamson


News and Publications

  • Paper by David A. Smith, Ryan Cordell, and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon: Infectious Texts: Modeling Text Reuse in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers (to be published by IEEE Computer Society Press for the Proceedings of the Workshop on Big Humanities) [read here]
  • Interview with the NEH for the Office of Digital Humanities’ blog [read here]
  • Grant Propsal to NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities: Our successful Start-Up Grant proposal [read here
  • Interview with project PI Ryan Cordell for WYNC’s On the Media [listen here]
  • Interview with project PI Ryan Cordell for ABC Australia Radio’s Future Tense [listen here]
  • Article from Wired Magazine’s MapLab Blog: “Here’s How Memes Went Viral — In the 1800s” [read here]
  • Article from Slate Magazine’s The Vault History Blog by Rebecca Onion: “Life Advice for Young Men that Went Viral in the 1850s.” [read here]