A Rocky Start, A Triumphant Finish

Introduction: Taking the book worm into the realm of computers

This semester has been a roller coaster to say the least. I started this term as a traditional reader with a pen in one hand and the book, play or texts in the other and was dropped into the world of computers, computer programs and digital analysis. (Terrifying, I know.) My initial feelings with the whole process were feelings of trepidation, anxiety and a little bit angry that new technology was taking over something I have always loved. Andrew Prescott wrote in his blog,  “a sense of being overwhelmed by technology, of anxiety about the way in which new technologies are transforming society”, which is exactly how I felt. “Why change something that is not and was not broken” was also something that kept going through my mind in the introductory weeks.

I am a person that is not a fan of change, so I really struggled to find the beauty in the digital humanities. My internal struggle and my main questions during the semester were focusing on the pros and cons of the quantitative process over the traditional qualitative process. How will the numbers, figures and pictures help us gain more insight and new views into texts we have studied for centuries? Will this type of analysis help or hinder the reader and researcher when looking at a piece of work?

Trials and Tribulations with TAPoR

My first foray into the digital humanities world was less then promising. The tool I was given was TAPoR and for the computer impaired, it was torture to figure out. I saw my grades slip from between my fingers and so I cursed all things computers for the next month or so. My first few blogs I posted were less then steller to me but most people found pure enjoyment from them. TAPoR and I could not seem to work together, and the more I pushed the more it pushed back with error messages. A couple of error messages is not bad but when you run 12 separate searches and get 12 different error messages it just takes computers fighting back to a whole new level.

For your enjoyment here are a few:

 

Once I figured out what TAPoR likes and what is does not, I started seeing results. This was a glimmer of hope in what I was sure was a doomed project. However, this glimmer soon flickered out and I again I was left in the dark hopelessly trying to find the light. The huge problem I have found using my tool is that same results are hard to come by. For example I used the same program (TAPoR), and the same text (Hamlet), and ran them through the same tool called CAPS Finder, each time I got a different result. I was starting to think that this program had it out for me so I enlisted my fellow classmates to redo the same search with the parameters I had already set. Sadly, out of 5 TAPoR users we did not get the same results.

After weeks spent slaving over the computer, TAPoR and I had come to a working agreement where it would give me result 50% of the time. This is was huge step into realizing that this whole thing may not be so bad.

Qualitative Research

I have a soft spot for Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I have studied this play over 7 times in an academic setting and every single time I find something new, interesting and different. While the quantitative results I got did shock me and helped me find new undiscovered information, I find you still need a human eye/reader. For example, a quote said by the Queen in Act 3,“madness. There is something in his soul..”. TAPoR pulled up the term madness using the concordance tool but it is up to the reader to figure out the significance of this line. Words are mean to be interpreted and a computer cannot help us with this process. It’s a human reader to text process that is the key to figuring out Shakespeare.

Quantitative using TAPoR

This section I will need to break up into two parts, the pros and the cons. Using digital analysis tool was something new for me to experience and it took a while to succumb to the idea.  So the only way to get my full feelings of the program was to break it up.

The Pros

            Within my research I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel when I started looking to the senses and their meanings with Act 3. The senses I took an interest in are: eyes, ears, tongue, sight. I did start the process in a qualitative matter but with out the help of digital humanities would not have found something that I have never realized before. By doing my searches I found that all the senses were connected and used interchangeably within Hamlet. Noticing the patterns of the words and how they were used made my research move forward with ease. This also pains me to say, but I was surprised how efficient and quick it found these patterns. It is a tedious task to do it with the human eye and you will miss a word or two in the process.

I also had the time to research other things using my other textbooks from history and the Internet to figure out the meanings of these words in a historical context. (This was only possible with all the extra time I had, since I was not hunched over a text book for hours on end). The results took to a whole different level of literary analysis, and a greater, deeper meaning of Hamlet.

The Cons

            Well, what can I say? The list of cons dealing primarily with TAPoR is long and tedious but since I have already talked about that, I will list other things in my findings. My number problem I have had with just the digital humanities is that the computer program takes away from the text. I found the more I got into the research aspect using TAPoR the less and less I used my hard copy of Hamlet. There it was, laying on my desk besides my computer, looking lonely and unused. It was a very heart wrenching moment when I realized that in 3 full weeks I have not opened the actual texts onceMaybe I am old fashioned, traditional, or whatever you want to call it but isn’t the text the most important part of literary analysis?

Another issue I found was TAPoR was not the only program with inconsistent results. We used five different programs (Voyeur, Monk, WordHoard, and WordSeer) and every single one gave us different results. It was hard to trust which program was right or not so we just put all our results into the our research and hoped for the best.

Conclusion

Andrew Prescott compared the birth of digital humanities as necessary as the “industrial revolution and the birth of print.” It may very well be and I honestly do like it for certain things.  It is definitely a time saver with the ability to search times quicker then the traditional methods. It can pull out patterns, words and phrases that a human cannot do with only missing something while doing so, and with such certainty. However, I have said this in my pervious blogs, this is a tool NOT a replacement to traditional methods of reading and analyzing a text. No computer or program can show you the beauty of these words put together on a page. Without the reader we cannot get the meaning that the author was trying to get across nor can we understand the text fully when we know that Shakespeare used the word “mad” a lot.

I have come a long way since the start of the semester. Digital humanities and programs will be a tool I will use as I proceed through my degree but it will not replace my book and pen. This has been an experience for me that I will cherish for all I have learned. I hope you all enjoyed the process as much as I have! Enjoy

 

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Robert S. Miola. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2011. Print.

Prescott, Andrew. Blog- http://digitalriffs.blogspot.ca/2012/01/electric-current-of-imagination-what.html?showComment=1334169799982

 

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