4/18 – GIANTS, WATERFALLS, AND WASHING MACHINES: Similes in retold disaster narratives

Existing research on figurative language related to disasters has tended to focus on the use of metaphor in media and political discourse. The QuakeBox corpus presented us with an opportunity to look differently at the language of disasters by examining change and persistence of similes in the retold narratives of people who experienced a major earthquake. In this seminar we provide an overview of the QuakeBox corpus and our methods of data collection, with a close attention to certain characteristics and challenges. We will also discuss the choice to focus on similes and we will explore various themes and patterns that have emerged.

GIANTS, WATERFALLS, AND WASHING MACHINES: Similes in retold disaster narratives
Tuesday, April 18th
5:30 – 7:00 PM
Room 5307
Or register here for zoom link:


Kaspar Middendorf, Manager, Arts Digital Lab, University of Canterbury

Karin Stahel, Research Assistant, Arts Digital Lab, University of Canterbury

Professor Paul Millar, English Department, University of Canterbury (via Zoom)

Professor Jeanette King, Aotahi School of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Canterbury (via Zoom)


Kaspar Middendorf is the Manager of the Arts Digital Lab, and was part of the team that developed the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive. They have contributed to a number of major research projects, including QuakeBox Take 2, Understanding Place, and the Canterbury Roll digitisation project. Kaspar has qualifications in mathematics, linguistics and secondary teaching, and completed their MLING thesis in 2017, using statistical modelling to compare syntactic structures in the QuakeBox spoken language corpus with the written language of the Christchurch Press.

Karin Stahel is a postgraduate student and teaching assistant in Data Science and Digital Humanities, and Research Assistant in the Arts Digital Lab. She completed the Master of Applied Data Science (MADS) programme at UC in 2021, and since then has assisted with research on a number of QuakeBox projects in the Arts Digital Lab. Karin is a recipient of the UC Aho Hīnātore | Accelerator Scholarship in 2023 and her research will explore the use of machine learning algorithms to classify the genre of articles in historical New Zealand newspapers.

Paul Millar is a Professor of English Literature and Digital Humanities in the University of Canterbury’s School of Humanities and Creative Arts. His research interests include the literature of Aotearoa New Zealand, Life Writing, and Cultural Heritage Digital Archiving. In 2001 he co-founded Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand Electronic Text Collection, and at UC he led the establishment of New Zealand’s first Digital Humanities teaching programme. Following the Canterbury earthquakes he founded the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive (www.ceismic.org.nz), a cultural heritage database that collects stories, images and media about the earthquakes’ impacts for the purposes of commemoration, teaching and research. In 2022 he was awarded The Royal Society / Te Apārangi Pou Aronui medal ‘for distinguished service to humanities aronui over a sustained period’ in recognition of his promotion of the Digital Humanities in New Zealand.

Jeanette King has published widely in areas relating to the Māori language and languages spoken by Māori – from aspects of linguistic change, particularly in the phrasal lexicon, through to language revitalization. She is a member of the MAONZE (Māori and New Zealand English) project examining change over time in the pronunciation of Māori. She leads the Diversity theme at the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour (NZILBB) at UC where her previous research includes work on non-verbal behaviour of Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand. Another project, entitled Tuhinga Māhorahora, collects and analyses writing by children in Māori immersion schooling in order to provide feedback to teachers about the use of Māori by their students. Her current research focusses on the protolexicon of Māori which adult New Zealanders have gained through exposure to the language and how that might be useful when they start to actively learn the language.

Presented by the M.A. Program in Digital Humanities 

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message