English's Colette Colligan uses big data to mine new insights into media coverage of the Oscar Wilde trials
In the spring of 1895, renowned Irish playwright, poet and author Oscar Wilde was caught in the eye of a TMZ-style media storm.
Over the course of three extensively reported trials, Wilde’s personal life was turned into a spectacle over accusations of homosexuality, male prostitution and sexual blackmail. Media outlets across the globe relished every detail of the high-profile scandal, collectively printing more than a million words’ worth of press coverage.
English professor Colette Colligan wondered where exactly those million words originated on the map, and where they diverged. Many of the news reports were almost exactly the same, yet altered in small, but important ways. With Wilde’s sexuality on trial, the media coverage from the period offers unique insights into how ideas of sexuality were reported and censored in newspapers around the world. When collected, compared and mapped, what might they show us about news virality, national press standards and, ultimately, sexuality? The possibilities were fascinating.
But there was just one big problem. It would take her entire career to research, access and compare a body of text of that size and complexity.