It Begins at the Beginning and Ends at the End

Introduction:

I have stated many times how conflicted I have been about this class. Having absolutely no idea about what it contained when I first entered, I was first struck by two things. One, was Professor Ullyot’s absolute enthusiasm for the subject that he was teaching and the second was the how foreign the subject matter was to me (in the sense of the digital humanities). Having been raised in the first digital era and still retaining vague memories of dial-up, I was fully aware of the capabilities of computers, how far they have advanced and how they could shape lives and ideas. It was an oversight on my part that I did not fully recognize that they could also be used in analyzing English and the literature within it. Looking back I can now fully recognize my error however, my whole experience has come away a bit bittersweet. My personal tool which I used (Voyeur) was easy to operate however I felt that while it had a great number of tools, the number of useful tools that I possessed was somewhat low. However, at least my tool was able to operate on a fairly regular basis. Looking at the other word tools and that issues that they caused my peers, their irregularity has to be acknowledged as an issue that the digital humanities community must face if they wish their field to progress. However at the same time I find myself thinking of different texts that we would be able to analyze with these tools, despite their faults. That would be the enthusiasm of Professor Ullyot shining through.  This picture by Beetroot Design Group shows every “Romeo” and “Juliet” through the entire play connected by red lines with 55,4440 lines used total…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pictures reminded me of the digital humanities and their ability to connect thoughts and ideas through a text that we may not have known about before. I love that about the digital humanities, however the flawed method that they are administered through causes me headaches and heartache.

 

Hamlet:

Having read Hamlet once before in high school, I felt that I had a fairly good overview of the play. While I think it would have been interesting to have different groups examine different texts within the separate tools, I feel that the use of a well-known text such as Hamlet allowed a good backdrop for learning the different nuances of the digital humanities. Since it is such a universally known story, it allowed each of us to concentrate on how the digital humanities tools helped us to understand the text rather then having simultaneously learn the plot and analyze the text. In my earlier blog post “Frustration and An Abundance of Claudius” (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/frustration-and-an-abundance-of-claudius/), I examined Claudius and his speech throughout Act 4 using Voyeur.  It was through the use of my tool, that I was able to identify Claudius’ concern for all of the other characters within the scene, repeatedly mentioning each one in turn. While this is a plot tidbit that I probably would have been able to uncover through a more through reading of the play, the digital tool allowed me to examine his speech in a different context using the Word Trends tool. Using that tool allowed me to examine Claudius’ behavior within Act 4 using not only the provided literature, but also the literature in a graphical form. As the digital humanities evolves and changes, so too will our methods of interpreting text and thus more nuances within the stories can be uncovered.

Voyeur:

While still in Phase I, my Voyeur group and I sat down and decided to discover our tool together rather than going off by ourselves and discovering it on our own. For our own particular group, this method worked very well. Being able to collaborate and use each other as resources became an invaluable aspect of the Phase II aspect of this course. In my Phase I blog post “Art Deco and Flexibility” (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/art-deco-and-flexibility/) I went over some of the additional tools that Voyeur had to offer and found them to be slightly lacking. Sure they looked pretty, however the way that they presented their information was vague and difficult to decipher. The balance between the aesthetics and functionality has to be maintained. While thinking of the future development of the digital humanities this aspect must be taken into consideration when designing future programs. One aspect of Voyeur which we found to be advantageous was the tools ability to analyze certain parts of text rather than being forced to analyze the entire corpus/text. It allowed for flexibility within the corpus while maintaining the same level of analysis as the larger bodies of text. While I do enjoy Voyeur for the certain advantages that it holds, it must be maintained that all of the digital tools must operate together in order to create a comprehensive picture of the text.

Tangent or Future?:

Are the digital humanities the future, or simply a tangent? I happily sit on the fence on this argument. While it is lovely to maintain that there are only two sides to this argument and pack everything up in little boxes and force people to each choose sides, the issue is more complex then that. On the one hand, technology is progressing at an extraordinary rate and advancing so quickly that I dare not even fathom what they might be capable of in the future. The insights that we gained from our tools while examining Hamlet were some that could have possibly taken years to undertake by hand. Voyeur adds a level of visual detail which helps some people to better grasp Shakespeare while some of the large corpus tools such as MONK analyze entire bodies of work and find the details within seconds. These are advantages of the digital humanities which cannot be ignored. However, does the rise of these new text analysis tools mean the failure of books and the abandonment of older methods?

Not necessarily.

While the new digital tools offer some new methods with which to analyze, the same job could in fact be accomplished by a scholar sitting at desk with nothing but pen and paper, it would take much longer for sure however in the end, the same result is gained. One also has to consider how long it takes to create programs such as these and how someone would have to go through every single manuscript word by word and mark down the speakers, the nouns, the verbs etc. Would that same amount of time also be used to gain the same results as sticking them into a computer to analyze? I must admit some weariness amount the foothold that technology has gained on our lives. In academia the effect is omnipresent, in the ten courses that I attended in the last year of university only one did not require a computer. Professors post their notes on Blackboard or use texting polls in class or use digital textbooks and quizzes to test our knowledge. In examining this I have to wonder what would occur should one part of it fail? No digital systems is without it’s flaws as evidenced by to error messages ourselves faced when completing this project.

My main point is that my book won’t break when I hit it with a hammer and it never runs out of batteries.

Conclusion:

While this class has had it’s share of ups and downs I am very glad that I experienced it. It opened up my mind to new methods of analyzing text and introduced me to new facets of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. The digital tools must be used together in order to have the most comprehensive picture of the text you are attempting to analyze. In the manner of future Vs. tangent, I back away slowly and embrace a more ambitious future where they both exist in somewhat strained peace.

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