WordSeer basics

WordSeer is a program for searching for words and their uses/relationships in all of Shakespeare’s texts, and for visualizing search results in ways that provoke new understanding and new questions. The designer is Aditi Muralidharan. In my notes on each of her videos below, I’ll include a series of questions about Hamlet that WordSeer could help you answer.

This is an introduction to the program’s capabilities and features.

Part 1 covers simple search, for word frequency and location, and relational search, for grammatical relationships (e.g. words describing other words).

  • For a simple search, it’s like a concordance. What advantages does it have over the other tools?
  • For a relational search, it depends on sufficient and complete text encoding. Look at some of the random sentences on the opening page to see how these operate, and what their limitations are.
  • What results do you get from relational searches? Try, for instance, a few personal qualities like honesty or credit “possessed by” [blank]. What happens when you change the search terms? In the video below, Men and Women in Shakespeare, you can see further demonstrations of “possessed by” her/him (for male & female possessors of things).

Part 2 of this video discusses the annotation feature, which allows you to tag different texts.

  • This is more useful when working with a large, multi-text corpus; or when comparing Hamlet to specific other works by Shakespeare (e.g. Macbeth).

Part 3 is about the Heat Maps feature, which allows you to visualize word distributions (even multiple words at a time), and the Word Tree that appears below, which displays the contexts of a given word in all of the sentences in which it appears.

  • This is certainly one of WordSeer’s best features–not only because the visualizations are so beautiful. They also, in the video Comparing Shakespeare’s Comedies and Tragedies, can help you immediately see the difference beween word usage in different texts–for instance, in all the comedies and all the tragedies.

Finally, it discusses the Related Words feature, which tells you which other words operate in similar ways.

  • This is a little ambiguous, but it seems to show how a given word has many of the same grammatical relationships as a list of other words. In the video ‘Beautiful’ in Shakespeare, Muralidharan shows how this can help you refine your search terms.

Some of the questions, then, that WordSeer might provoke:

  1. Which words should I start with?
  2. How complicated should my initial search be? (a simple search, or a relational search?)
  3. How can I work with those graphs? (Click to filter results)
  4. How can I search only Hamlet? See the video on Collections.
  5. What are all of those relationships in the drop-down list, and how do they operate in Hamlet? In other words, what can they help me discover?
  • A simple search for ‘beautiful’ gives only one result. Then when you examine the Related Words list (by right-clicking), and add them to a Heat Map Query, it becomes clear that ‘fair’ is the better word–that is, the word Shakespeare uses far more often than ‘beautiful’. The video thus shows how comparing multiple words using a heat map (and looking at individual instances, and the word tree), reveals that ‘fair’ is Shakespeare’s preferred word for female beauty.
  • The question this video explores is how men and women possess different nouns (things, people) in the plays, using a relational search. At first the results are not very revealing. Then when you divide the results by genre (comedies, tragedies, histories), the results are more interesting.
  • Collections let you filter search results, before, during, or after you search. You can add sentences, texts, selections (‘snippets’) of texts, and words to your collections.
  • These are an effective way to organize the evidence you gather from the text, as you might do when preparing an essay.
  • This brief video creates two collections, of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies. It shows how you can compare them to one another, using heat maps in two separate windows. A simple search shows that ‘love’ is everywhere in the comedies, and then that love is everywhere in the tragedies too.

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