Using distant reading techniques to understand the value of culture in a time of crisis

Dr Tully Barnett1

1Flinders University, Park Holme, Australia


The 2015 Australian Federal Government’s Senate Inquiry into the impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget [1] decisions on the Arts received 2719 submissions, a corpus of over 1.8 million words that form a record of a time when governmental support for arts and culture was under threat [2]. The robust response by Australian artists, arts administrators and the broader community demonstrates that the inquiry process was a crucial intervention in a moment of industry crisis. But it also answered a gap in the sector, providing an avenue for practicing artists, arts administrators and audiences to talk about the industry and its impacts in a way they haven’t been able to do before.

This paper considers the submissions and hearings testimony as a public body of material constructing the artist and the state of the arts in the present moment under austerity. The paper reports on the application of techniques and methodologies of distant reading to the corpus of 1.8 million words that form the submissions to the Senate Inquiry including word cloud generators (see Figure 1), JStor Labs [3] and Voyant (Figure 2) [4]. These 2719 submissions form a body of collective valuing of culture and I argue that we can understand something about the way that artists, arts organisations and arts audiences value culture by applying distant reading methodologies to the corpus.

Figure 1

Figure 2


  1. Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget Decisions on the Arts Accessed 16 June 2017.
  2. Meyrick, Julian, and Tully Barnett. “Culture without “world”: Australian cultural policy in the age of stupid.” Cultural Trends(2017): 1-18.
  3. JStore Labs Accessed 16 June 2017
  4. Voyant Tools Accessed 16 June 2017


Tully Barnett is a Research Fellow in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.  She works on the ARC Linkage Project Laboratory Adelaide: The Value of Culture which is designed to formulate new ways of understanding about the value of arts and culture.  Tully also conducts research on literary reading in the digital age. She is Associate Director of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres and is a member of the executive board of the Australasian Association of Digital Humanities.

ORCID: 0000-0003-0269-5814