The End of a Beginning

I am writing on something that before this class I never knew about let alone expected to ever find myself writing about.  I have taken a class this past semester that teaches about the digital humanities as a method for literary analysis, but my reasoning for taking that class should be made clear, it is a requirement for an English degree that I must have before I am allowed to go into the field of education.  Because of my degree requirements, I have found myself taking a literary analysis class that was much more than I ever expected it to be.  I am writing about my first experience with something that is new to me and also happens to be useful and enjoyable, that is, the digital humanities.  In this post, I will be analyzing the feasibility of an idea that involves mixing together both the digital approach to the humanities and the traditional approach to the humanities for the sake of education.

Mixed Motives and Mixed Results

I have many motives for writing this extensive blog post, the fact that it is a requirement for English 203 is not the least of those motives but this is the only mention which that particular motive will receive.  First among my motives listed here is the fact that I intend to go into the field of education upon completion of my university education, so I must ask myself, how would the digital humanities affect or be affected by education.  My second motive listed is the fact that I was influenced at one time by an English professor to believe that, remaining realistic, there is no definite right or wrong way to analyze a text and therefore there is no definite right or wrong analysis of a text; so believing this has also allowed me to have an open mind concerning the humanities.  Therefore, I felt that the subject must be mentioned.  My third and final motive listed here, is the fact that I just wanted to compare the traditional aspects of the humanities to the more modern aspects of the digital humanities.  All of these motives together are why I picked the blog post from the Digital Humanities Now website that I did.  That particular blog post is one written about interdisciplinarity and curricular incursion that can be seen if you go to the following link,

http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/

My thoughts were that I wouldn’t find a better blog post to compare both aspects of the humanities as well as the effects that they have had on education and vice versa.

Pedagogy

I intend to go into the field of education, because of this I feel that it would be good to know some of the proper approaches to the Digital Humanities in case I ever end up teaching something about them or having to introduce a course on the digital humanities to a school board or committee.  The idea of interdisciplinary actions in the curricular aspect of the humanities is essentially, new revolutions in the humanities and how they affect or are affected by pedagogy and that is what I am interested in.  The digital humanities are a new and different method of teaching English that may be viewed more receptively by students than the traditional approach to the humanities because it can be easier for some people to acquire an analysis of a text through some of the tools available.  The Digital Humanities may also be more appealing to a number of students because of the more relaxed writing style that is available through them.

Right and Wrong

I have the personal belief that there is no definite right or wrong approach to textual analysis which extends to the idea that there is no definite right or wrong approach to the humanities.  That particular belief is supported by the idea that each and every person analyzes a text differently.  Therefore, there are as many perspectives of texts as there are people.  Each person gains a different perspective of a text just by reading it and the tools available through the digital humanities have the capability to verify, expand and build upon those various perspectives.  Finally, I feel that the line between right and wrong analyses of a text is really blurry, therefore, who am I to judge whether or not a new method of analysis is definitively right or wrong.

Comparison

I would like to compare what I have learned of the digital humanities to the information that is available to the world at large and to what I have learned about the traditional approach to the humanities.  Before starting the literary analysis course with Dr. Ullyot, I knew very little about the digital humanities, in fact, I went into the class thinking that it would be based on the classical literary analysis class where the students read the text, come up with a quantitative analysis of the text, write a paper on that analysis, and then when they are done with that, they proceed to rinse and repeat.  It is a good thing that my assumption was way off base, because a class that I expected to be dull was actually highly interesting as well as informative.  In the past, I have only ever approached the humanities in the classical manner and I have always been comfortable with the traditional method of textual analysis where a person reads the text and attempts to draw conclusions from it and prove those conclusions by writing an essay.  I was only a fan of this, however, because I am a relatively strong reader and it has always been easy for me to read a text and draw a decent quantitative analysis from it.  For me, the only problem with the traditional approach to the humanities lay in the aspect of having to write an essay, something that I am not very good at doing.  The Digital Humanities are really quite new to me; in fact, at the beginning of this past semester was the first time that I had ever heard of them, let alone studied them.  At first I was really skeptical of the idea of using technology to analyze texts as well as the idea of posting my findings on Twitter or a blog.  The reason for this was because of the fact that the only examples of either one that I had ever come across were pointless wastes of time with the people who wrote on them badly abusing the use of the English language.  After I realized that both Twitter and blogging could be extremely useful, I came to accept the idea of textual analysis using computers, to be honest, for me it was a journey of small steps.  I am still not entirely comfortable with the methods of textual analysis available through the digital humanities, but I will say that they are an amazing way to verify or prove my own quantitative analyses and make them qualitative.  I am also much more comfortable with the more relaxed writing style that is afforded to me through writing on blogs rather than a formal essay.  I feel that if the best of both aspects of the humanities could be mixed together, then there would be a truly excellent dynamo in place for the study of literature.

How it Was Done

Throughout the course of the semester, the people in English 203 learned about different tools available through the digital humanities and what those tools are capable of using a base text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  First we learned how to operate one of five different tools, and second, we got together in groups with four other people who all used different tools and worked together to analyze a portion of Hamlet.  This exercise taught me much about one tool, a little bit about the other four, and a great deal about how the digital humanities work.  The idea or concept of having four other people working in concert with me on the same project being able to converse with them via email or blog really made things easy.  I learned through the use of the blog posts that we are required to do, that the digital humanities are entirely collaborative.  Any one person with access to the blog was able to comment on or contribute to anything that I chose to write about.  Because of this, anything written on a blog in the digital humanities is constantly exposed to public scrutiny, as well as any new developments in technology, which are constantly occurring.  The concept of putting your findings in a blog post is a new and highly effective way to keep your writing and information perpetually up to date.

Phase I

            I was given the Voyeur or Voyant tool developed by Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell to learn how to operate in order to analyze the text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the first phase of our class programme. http://hermeneuti.ca/voyeur

By learning how to use it, I discovered that the Voyeur/Voyant tool is very easy to use, especially for someone like me who is not very technologically adept.  I also learned that Voyeur/Voyant has a very open user interface which makes it very easy to start out using, just input your text and go to town basically.


Between the Phases

I used the tool that I learned about earlier in order to study Hamlet and verify qualitatively my own quantitative analysis of the text.  As I mentioned before, I have very little trouble with reading a text and coming up with a quantitative analysis of it.  Therefore, I thought that it would be easier to use my tool in order to verify my own analyses and make them qualitative rather than use it to come up with entirely new analyses.  Because of this I used the Voyeur/Voyant tool as a hypothesis testing machine and achieved what I believe to be excellent results.  I am not saying that it is not a hypothesis or conclusion generating machine, because I believe that it can be used as such; what I am saying is it was more practical for me to use Voyeur/Voyant in the former capacity.

Phase II

Once I had a firm grasp of how to use Voyeur/Voyant, I was pooled into a group with four other people who had used different tools than my own in order to see how well our tools would interact; this was the second phase of the class programme.  Most of the members of my group agreed that their tools were extremely viable in the capacity of testing hypotheses.  In fact, we made a quantitative analysis of Act II of Hamlet regarding surveillance, and between the five of us and our tools we successfully proved our analysis.  Throughout the course of the second section of the class, I came to the conclusion that no matter how good my tool was on its own, it could always be boosted up or helped out by another tool’s unique functions.  In my case, the tool that helped my own out the most was the Wordhoard tool developed by Northwestern University, http://wordhoard.northwestern.edu/userman/index.html .  I found that Voyeur/Voyant wouldn’t actually count how many words a person said, only how often they spoke, where Wordhoard would do exactly what I needed in that respect.

The Rewards

            After taking Dr. Ullyot’s English 203 class as well as reading Ryan Cordell’s blog on interdisciplinarity I have come to the conclusion that there is a place in the humanities for technology, I am not saying that it will completely overtake the traditional approaches to the humanities, but that there is a place for it.  I feel that the opinion stated in Ryan Cordell’s blog that “for digital humanists to make a real incursion into the field of literary studies, we have to start presenting in non-DH panels” (http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/).  Even though not all people agree on the concept of the digital humanities, and not all of them communicate in the same way, in the words of Ryan Cordell, “we have to start actively seeking out colleagues who don’t know what we do—perhaps even those who don’t like what we do. We have to talk with colleagues who don’t tweet” (http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/).

My Experiences and Responses

I have been introduced to the digital humanities and learned about them through trial and error in Dr. Ullyot’s class.  Now that I have done that, I am far more comfortable with the digital humanities now than I was upon first hearing about them and I am far more receptive to the idea of using technology for the purpose of textual analysis.

Results

Throughout the course of the semester, I have learned how to operate the Voyeur/Voyant program in concert with four other members of the English 203 class.  I have studied Act II with four other people who have all learned how to use different tools available through the digital humanities.  We discovered that the different tools in the digital humanities work better together than they do on their own.  When my Phase II group and I agreed that our tools worked better for them to verify their own findings rather than discover new things, I came to the conclusion that like the different tools in the humanities, maybe the two aspects of the humanities would also be able to work together in order to be much more useful and adaptable.

My Own Conclusions

My conclusions on the whole are that I accept the digital humanities as a new and improved method of testing hypotheses even though I am more comfortable with the traditional version of the humanities.  From my experience in both the traditional humanities and the digital humanities, I have come to the conclusion that both aspects of the humanities would greatly benefit from interaction with each other.

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