Birth of a Salesman: How Word Seer and its Supplemented Images May Sell Us New Interpretations

     Dane Thibeault

English 265 Phase 1 Blog Post 1

   In being tasked with studying act III scene iv of Shakespeare’s Hamlet using the tool word seer, I was prompted to inquire more
about the tool itself, and to convey the results as the basis of this recollection.  However, a question I asked myself, prior to exploring the functions of word seer, was whether I believed it to be a simply interesting device, or an actually insightful device. What I mean by this is that I felt it necessary to deem whether or not the tool would return simply quantitative results with little meaning out of context, or rather, whether the device would return results that could be implemented in forming a qualitative conclusion, one that may not be easily reached from simple traditional close reading and text analysis.  My answer: quantitative results can form qualitative features, in identifying frequent words that may be used in establishing themes of studied texts, and word seer is an excellent tool in doing just so, through its visual functions.

     What are word seer’s limitations? That which we all possess: human intellect. How these problems may be overcome will largely be the target of my research. What I mean by this is that, while data figures may prove useful, they are not interpretations on their own, which can only be achieved by thoughtful evaluation. However, this brings me back to how many of the functions of word seer are a step in this direction. This being said. the more specific limitations of this tool I have yet to discover, and will attempt to uncover in further discovering how it works.

     The initial appeal of word seer, one that I feel deems it as more useful than a series of other digital tools, is that it is equipped with a heat map function, which allows for it to display the frequency of certain inputted words as they appear throughout a text, a visual feature that allows for comparisons and contrasts to be established.  For instance, a constantly recurring word can be inferred to represent a central theme within a text, as a word such as “lust”—one carrying thematic implications—may recur in one of Shakespeare’s other texts, such as Othello. Therefore, to test the validity of this feature, I inserted the word, “revenge” in the context of Hamlet, and was somewhat astounded by the results, (featured below) as they were characterized by a surprising lack of frequency of the word, contrary to my expectations, demonstrating how data features may be used to either verify or discredit superficial suppositions.

I was also surprised to discover that other words characteristic of Shakespeare’s works, excluding “love” and “death”, such as “chaste” “debt” and “honour” were remarkably less frequent than I would have previously anticipated based on my avid reading of the Bard’s other works(this test is featured below). This phenomenon may be used as evidence to suggest that Hamlet may differ greatly from the other texts in the Shakespearean corpus: an intriguing avenue for further research. Such questions as these may not only be tested with tools like word seer, but also, may be prompted by unexpected data results that are returned from such devices.

Therefore, it is now evident to me the profound impact of images on research. While one could repeatedly read Hamlet for analysis, it is unlikely that they could reach such observations so quickly and efficiently, and the further questions prompted by viewing an image would likely be absent from the process of inquisition.  Ammunition to support the significance of images to the process of research and interpretation, and the formulation of new theories and observations, is offered by  Martyn Jessop, in the following  article blurb: http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/3/281.short

So what to make of all of this, then? Essentially, what I wish to offer is an alternative approach to acquiring information about the themes of commonly studied texts. Therefore, word seer is an effective implement, as it allowed me to conclude, through preliminary trials, some potential ominous themes to characterize the text of Hamlet, through the words frequently used, such as how the repeated use of the word “death” has become an iconic thematic assumption of the play.  Further, this being said, what I desire to advocate is that word seer is made effective by its heat map image qualities, for comparison, contrast, visualization and frequency,  and that the further aim of my research is to continue to inquire into its other potential uses, to further determine its qualitative, insightful potential. Therefore, my next order of business is to explore other such features, such as the word tree below.

 

 

7 thoughts on “Birth of a Salesman: How Word Seer and its Supplemented Images May Sell Us New Interpretations

  1. Hi Dane: Great start to the blog; thanks for posting first! You might want to make your screenshots a bit larger, next time. I’m looking forward to the next phase of your group’s work.

  2. Hi Dane,

    This is Aditi, the developer. I’m glad to see that WordSeer’s a source of interesting findings for you.

    However, if you do find things you think could be better, or things that didn’t work the way you’d have liked, please post about those too. I can’t stress how important feedback from real users is to the development process.

    Best,
    Aditi

  3. Dane:

    I liked your point about the main limitation of Wordseer, and any of the tools we work with, is human intellect. It made me realize that some of the limitations that I pointed out with my tool, Voyeur, will still occur unless I use my own “thoughtful evaluation” which will then lead to the tool being used to its full potential. I think as a society we all expect so much out of technology and fail to realize that technology relies on us to work to its full advantage!

    Great post!

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