Family Affairs in the Digital Humanities

To begin writing blog posts I was extremely nervous. What if I wrote something unintelligent? First of all, the whole world would have access to it, and the thought that the whole class and not just the professor would read it really had me sweating! It doesn’t help that I’m completely technologically challenged either, and prefer to do things the old fashioned way such as writing my notes with a pen and paper (gasp!). But despite this, one thing I realized as I tried to be enthusiastic about this whole other world to me was that it makes things so much easier! Less time, looks cleaner and more polished, and way more people can see other things that you post even if it’s not school related (scary at first, but kind of cool now). Imagine getting my stuff published and recognized by a much larger audience…this would be the way to do it! The only problem about this supposedly easier method is that if you don’t know how to do squat on the computer, its way harder before it gets any easier.

So my goal was to get used to using this method, so that soon enough I could do this with my eyes closed (so I hope at least). It drove me absolutely crazy when my browser wouldn’t load, or that my laptop came up with blank pages. Why wasn’t this working as smoothly as I hoped? The funny thing is, this was no longer an individual thing I did on my own (besides my group members), it became a family affair. The amount of times I got my poor father to fix the wi-fi, pleaded with him to call SHAW, and even after all that the browser was still slow… I cried saying that my laptop is crap and that this was his fault because he made me get a PC when I insisted I wanted a Mac.

Funny business aside,

After watching the video tutorials on WordSeer and trying as many different things as I could, I discovered some really cool things. Obviously, I had learnt about some of the benefits of WordSeer from the class workshop, but it was different when I started to play with it on my own. It just “clicked” and finally the light bulb lit up. Unfortunately this didn’t happen before I started the whole incident with my father…sorry dad!

The good news is, after my dad sat me down and made me explain the whole point of the digital humanities and why this mattered so much (I asked the same thing at the beginning of the semester), he seemed really impressed! My dad lives on his computer and does all that hard math excel stuff. He didn’t know that an English major could use so much technology to further enhance her “field.” So all in all, it started off bad and frustrating, but turned out to be really valuable and my dad gave me the “nod” of approval! Note to self- dad associates technology with importance, good to know. And I no longer have to be associated as that child who’s useless because she isn’t becoming a dentist.

I must admit that I was really relieved that I was doing WordSeer. It seemed like the least complicated next to Wordhoard during the workshops, and after playing around with it  (when the browser was working) I realized how creative and so easy to use it was. I was impressed by the high quality of imagery and being a visual person it was easier to comprehend. I am still on the process of working on how to do snippets, but the gist of the program such as making collections and seeing the comparisons with Shakespeare’s other works to Hamlet makes it easier to identify the themes and significance of certain words. I liked the fact that with WordSeer the results can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. For example, you are able to just get words from one scene of one play, or compare words from all the plays from a certain genre such as tragedy, plu more! This is a great tool for initial research and after doing the writing skills exercise in class, it dawned on me that this is an awesome place to start studying neologisms and etymologies of each word (an assignment I had to do for my Shakespeare’s class).

As for specific findings on Hamlet act 3, scene 4- I haven’t gone too much into this as I was spending much of my time navigating through the program. However, I am quite excited to discover whatever WordSeer will offer me now that I have some confidence in using the program (and the computer). In my next blog post I plan to focus on my findings from this scene and elaborate more specifically on all the benefits of WordSeer.

4 thoughts on “Family Affairs in the Digital Humanities

  1. Ayesha,

    It’s great to hear that you’re becoming more familiar with the tool word seer, and I feel that this very trial and error process is essential in the process of integrating digital humanities into the broader spectrum of the English discipline altogether. This post also addresses what I believe to be a fundamental impediment to the digital humanities: why use a computer program as opposed to the “good old fashion way” (which I also generally prefer) in which some of the same avenues of research could be explored with human intellect alone, without lagging connections and frustrating error messages? This point also draws upon a potential general improvement that could be made to word seer, this being to improve its speed and reliability. Inconvenience is one of the primary motivators behind people refusing to embrace new principles, and this is no less true for the digital humanities: why use it if it’s just going to cause more trouble, right? Therefore, this could potentially be one of our points of focus in exploring the disadvantages of these tool compared to the others that were given orientations to during the workshop process. However, the most valid assertion that I draw from this post is that only through exploration, consulting technical support, and through rigorously trying new approaches can a tool such as word seer be optimized to its full potential, and this also may be a point that we could advocate in our presentation, perhaps? Anyway, in exploring the functions of word seer, perhaps we will be able to discover something new about it that can be incorporated into the presentation, as well. In the end, I believe this an effective step in the right direction in answering the underlying question: “Why use word seer, and why consult the digital humanities in forming textual interpretations, altogether?” Well done,


  2. I agree with Dane. Ayesha, your post was a great narrative of coming to grips with this tool; I appreciate knowing this background. Next time would you try adding in some screenshots? Looking forward to reading & seeing your results.

  3. I had a message from the developer just now; she writes “Firefox and Chrome work best with WordSeer, [but] internet explorer tends to break some visualizations,
    especially if you’re multitasking.”

  4. Hi, it’s me, Aditi, the developer.

    Ayesha, I’m sorry that WordSeer’s was unreliable – and that the snippets functionality isn’t intuitive.

    WordSeer uses a lot of graphics, so sometimes your browser will get slow and crash, it’s a real problem and, as your TA says, it’s a big barrier to adoption.

    Unfortunately, I can’t tell you when it’ll be fixed. I’m in the middle of a complete overhaul of the visualization features of WordSeer, but I wanted you to know that I’m aware of these problems and working on them.

    All the best,

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