The Digital Humanities: What It Has to Offer

First Impressions of the Digital Humanities

When I first learned that in English 203, we would be using the digital humanities to analyze Hamlet, my initial thought was fear. I have never been a technologically savvy person, and when I learned from the course syllabus that we would be spending the entire course focussing on the newfound digital side of the humanities, I cannot deny that I was fairly anxious about the course. The closest that I have ever come to using technology for English was when I used the online dictionary or thesaurus for some of my essays. My first thoughts about having to use computers for this course, was that we would have to be able to program software, or design tools that would help with picking out themes. Now that I look back at my initial responses, they seem ridiculous and far-fetched to me. The idea of actually having to program and design tools no doubt came from paranoia I had about computers, because I am so technologically inept. I was very comfortable analyzing literature the old fashioned way, with a text in one hand, and a pen in the other, so when change was mentioned, I got a little carried away with my ideas of what that change would bring. Fortunately, what we actually had to do was nothing like my far-fetched first impressions. The only thing that made my journey through English 203 a little more difficult than it should have been was that I was one of those lucky people that got chosen to use TAPoR as their tool. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, TAPoR is very temperamental. It seems to work only when it feels like it, and only if you set it up in a specific way. The only way it worked, for me at least, was if you only used the tools that ended in (html). Otherwise, the only response you received was one of TAPoR’s multiple error messages.
As well as having specific conditions, I felt as though this program changed its mind quite a bit. What I mean by that is that if I tried to do something and it didn’t work, if I tried it a little bit later, it would work. An example of this would be when I first tried to use documents from My Texts instead of putting in the URL, it wouldn’t work. However, when I tried using the texts that I had saved in the program later on in phase one, TAPoR decided to co-operate, and I was able to actually obtain a result. Due to these specifications and issues TAPoR had, it is not surprising that in the beginning of phase one, I started to believe that you had to work for the tool, rather than with it. Instead of using the tool to help me, like I should have been doing, I was using the tool just because it was a necessary component for this course. After I had used TAPoR for the first few times, I felt as though in order to find any relevant results at all, I had to know what it was that I was looking for. Instead of using the tools to help me find themes and ideas within Hamlet, I more or less used the program to find evidence of those themes and ideas. During this part of the course, I honestly thought that the program was much more trouble than it was worth. Before I was introduced to TAPoR, I was perfectly able to delve into the depths of Hamlet the old fashioned way, using nothing more than a highlighter, pen, and my brain.

Growing with the Digital Humanities

After a while of having this pessimistic view of the Digital Humanities, I began to gain some respect for what TAPoR, and the rest of the digital tools we were using, could do. Going into the second phase of our team projects, I was able to see what the benefits of using online tools were. Though using TAPoR was definitely not my first choice of tools that I could have used, it appeared to be helpful in the end. Unsure of what to talk about in the final group project, I used one of the simpler tools that TAPoR provides to give me some ideas. The only thing that this tool was able to do was list the most used words in a specific text.

Though this task is not something a person would consider difficult, it did yield some very interesting results. After finding this piece of data, I was almost able to completely forgive TAPoR for its inability to co-operate and its incredibly large error message collection. In a former blog post, and in my final group project, I mentioned how finding this specific word at the top of the list inspired me to look deeper into the play. I have mentioned it again here because this was a pivotal moment for the Digital Humanities and I. This was the part of the course for me when I realized just how helpful the digital humanities can be. This program was able to show me something new, something I would have other wised missed if I had not used TAPoR. Even though, due to the opinions of my classmates and me, TAPoR was not the best tool, it was still able to provide me with information that I found interesting. It was this point in my research that I was able to fully understand the gift that is using online tools to do research. Later on into phase two, I also realized how helpful the other tools were. After TAPoR showed me to look into the use of the word “Lord” by Ophelia, Voyeur was able to show me how her use of the word declined as the story went on.
With these two results that the tools gave me, I was able to piece together the declination of Ophelia’s respectful attitude. This is something I honestly would have never noticed if I had not been able to use the tools that we were offered in this class, and it is information that I think is pretty important to the character of Ophelia. The use of these tools was definitely helpful, and I was able to see through this phase, how awesome the Digital Humanities can be.

Digital Humanities: Important, but not quite “Game-Changing”

After finishing phase two of this course, I started to believe in the power of the Digital Humanities. Being much faster and much more efficient than the old school way of highlighting and going through the text to count how many times a word is used, the use of online tools helps us to reach or end goal of comprehension in a much shorter time period. That is why, on the last day of class, I chose to side with the people fighting for the digital, rather than those fighting for the classic way.

In this last debate, it was interesting to see what other peoples honest thoughts were about the digital humanities. There were many conspiracy theories about how in the future, about how there will be no books, only people reading with their kindle or ipad, and about how children are going to grow up without ever having seen a book. Missing out on the ability to truly look into the novel or play they must read for class, these children will grow up never knowing what the true meaning of analyzing literature is. Although these aren’t the exact words the team against the Digital Humanities used, it is a feeling of fear that seems to be shared by quite a few people. In the blog Game Change: Digital Technology and Performative Humanities by Tom Scheinfeldt, he talks about how many people refer to the introduction of the digital humanities as a complete “Game Change”. Tom Sheinfeldt defines the phrase “game change” as something that redefines the original action, and an entirely different action (or game) is produce. He does this in the terms of baseball, the game in which this term was first used. After Babe Ruth changed the game with his ability to score homeruns in the likes that no one had ever seen before, baseball players needed different skills from the previous ones in order to successfully play this new game.
He then goes on to talk about how with this definition, there is nothing game changing about the new usage of digital humanities. Although it is new, and is in a format never seen before, online tools are used for the same purpose and to the same end that previous ways of text analyses have been used. With this new and advanced system of text analysis, the objectives stay the same. We look for important words or phrases, or different things that have been used in conjunction with each other often. These searches that we do, the items that we look for in a text, stay the same. The only difference in the way we used to analyze something, compared to how we analyze it now, is that we are making the research work for the time period we live in. With today’s technology, we are able to do everything that we have always done, but in an easier and more efficient way that is better for everyone. Being able to use today’s technology does not change what we have always been doing, but rather adapts our process to today’s society. If, in the future, kids grow up learning how to analyze texts through these online programs instead of learning on paper the way we have, not much will have changed. The will still be looking for things people have always searched for, but they will be doing it in a way that is more familiar to them and to their generation.

Concluding thoughts about the digital humanities

As I have mentioned above, I definitely went into English 203 with some doubts and some fears as to what we would be doing. I had grown accustomed to reading and searching within a text the classic way, and I am not the kind of person to accept change into their life with open arms. This is most likely why so many people believe that the digital humanities is, for lack of better words, such a big deal. The idea of change is terrifying to people who are used to doing something a specific way. This initial dislike of change mixed with the terrifying reality of our world becoming more and more dependent on technology would have a lot of people speculating about the involvement of computers in literary research. They also might be skeptical of the idea of being replaced by a computer, as I was at the beginning. The thought that a computer was able to do what I was able to, but in a faster and more direct was, was also a little insulting. However, as I grew accustomed to my online tool, and what it had to offer, I started to accept the idea that the digital humanities aren’t as scary as they seem. Though TAPoR was able to help me with a few different things, like showing me what to look for, and giving me statistics, it was in no way the overwhelming technological experience that I had feared. While the computer was able to do all of the quantitative research, I was the one who was doing all of the qualitative work. While it is extremely useful and handy to have a computer to do the grunt work for you, without the insight and thoughts of the person doing the research, all you would have would be a bunch of numbers. So, even though I agree that the digital humanities make research much more straightforward, I do not believe that it is the most important part of literary research. In other terms, even with the addition of this new resource, the game of text analysis has not changed all that much.

TAPoR in Act One: The Final Struggle

It has been quite the process, and it seems surreal that we are almost done with the digital humanities for this term, but it is time to conclude with our Phase 2 blogs. My group met in the TFDL this morning, and after our talking about/ obsessing over the Hunger Games, like we do every meeting, we eventually got back on topic and started to discuss our next move. We decided that, keeping the characters we had previously looked at in Act One, we would t use each other for help and use the different tools that we are each experts in to look further into Hamlet. Rearing to go for this new blog, I began by just going back to TAPoR, so that I could look at the results that I had found last week. Unfortunately, as seems to be the curse of TAPoR, it failed to work. The site refused to load, and I was unable to view what I had done last week, and I was unable to do anything new with it as well. I even tried to use a different browser, Mozilla Firefox instead of Google Chrome, but it did not change the disappointing result. Later, I learned that it was not just my computer, but the TAPoR site had refused to work for at least one group member from phase one as well. Although I am thankful that there is nothing wrong with my computer, I cannot help but feel anger towards this tool. Brushing off this slight nuisance to my plan of action, I decided to start taking a look at the other tools, and how they could help me look further into the characters of Laertes and Ophelia in Act one. However, I encountered another problem with technology while trying to view the Google doc that is our main form of communication. I tried several times and several different ways to log onto this tool, but no matter what I did, I received the same message: telling me that I cannot access the document because it would be in violation with the Terms and Services of it. After talking to a team mate from Phase Two this time, I learned that it was not just TAPoR that was giving other people problems, but the Google doc as well. The Google doc that my team has been using as a form of communication for this phase has been giving at least two other people in my group issues. As the feeling of frustration and discouragement settled in, I wondered to myself if any of these problems facing the technological aspect of the project will ever be resolved. I can sense a kind of déjà vu with these issues, where, once again, I am busy trying to figure out the system errors of my computer rather than focusing on important aspects that I am supposed to be finding within the play. It seems that rather than trying to collaborate with the other tools, and learn what I can do with them from the Google doc, I have spent much less time learning about Laertes and Ophelia, and more time trying to fix something that I cannot fix.

Using TAPoR with Laertes and Ophelia

After discussing our Plan of Action further this morning, my team of Act one decided that we would each look at individual characters, and use our tools to separately analyze our people, and then collaborate our findings on Friday. As you can see from this link to our google doc, I was chosen to take a look at Ophelia and Laertes. The first thing I decided that I needed to do, was to isolate the lines of both Ophelia and Laertes, because if there is one thing that I know about TAPoR, it is that it does not like to tell you what character is saying the words that it finds. After I found a website with act one of Hamlet, I copied it onto a word document and began to tinker with it. I started with changing all of the speakers to abbreviations of their names, so that I would be able to tell when a person is speaking, and when somebody is saying their name. I saved it to my texts in my TAPoR account, and then decided to separate Ophelia and Laertes’ lines. Though Laertes has a few lines in Scene one, I only used the lines he speaks in Scene three, because my study is based more upon Laertes and Ophelia’s relationship rather than the one Laertes has with the Royal Court. The first thing I noticed immediately after separating their lines, is that it looked like Laertes was saying a lot more words and had longer lines than Ophelia did. So, using the find words tool, I investigated this hunch and sure enough, I was right. This tool showed me that even though Ophelia is in the scene for nearly twice as long and has more speeches than Laertes, he says nearly three times as many words. With the List Words tool, I also noticed that the most frequent word that Ophelia uses is the word “Lord”. She uses this title six times, once referring to Hamlet, and the other five times she uses the phrase, she is talking to her father and is referring to him as “my lord”. The over-use of this one word in a mere one hundred fifty two words shows us how obedient and how much respect Ophelia has for the men around her. Even with almost three times as many words, Laertes does not utter the word “Lord” nearly as often as Ophelia does. The only time Laertes does say the word “lord” is when, like Ophelia, he is talking to his father and calling him “my Lord”. It is interesting when you compare how these siblings refer to their parent, in such a formal, respectful way, to the way Hamlet so informally refers to his mother as simply his mother. You can see just how much they respect their father’s authority, whereas Hamlet has seemed to lose all the respect he had for his mother. This is honestly something that I never really noticed or thought of, and (I did not think that I would ever say this, but) I am really happy that TAPoR was able to enlighten me.

Phase 2: The Beginning

Now that Phase two of our Hamlet in the Humanities Lab is officially done, it is time to start with the exciting, yet slightly terrifying phase two. Why so terrifying, you might ask? Well, it might be the fact that this phase of our project is worth so much more than the previous phase that may scare me. It could also be that we are expected to be an expert with our tools by now, and I feel as though Tapor is not the most useful tool to be an expert in. Fortunately this morning, my new group (those that are doing act one of Hamlet) officially started phase two together, and we discussed our ideas and concerns about this part of the study. We talked about phase 2, and what exactly this entails for all of us. After discussing our P.O.A., or plan of action as we decided to call it. We decided that using each of our individual tools, we would look at character development in Hamlet, and how the characters seem to change from the first act to the last. I am sure if you compared this act to a later one, you would not only be able to the change within the characters, but you will also see a difference in how the characters interact together. Although we are only supposed to be looking at act one, we all agreed that it would be really difficult to conclude anything about Hamlet without taking any other parts of the play into account. If we did only focus on the act we were given, we would not really be able to discuss any of the themes, the plot, the characters or really anything else that is present in the play. In the first scene, you really only find out the background story of the royal family of Denmark, and are only able to partially see everything this play has to offer. You could really learn all needed to know about the character relationships with this diagram. If we did only look at this first scene, we would maybe figure out the basic plot, and speculate on what would happen later on. This could potentially be useful, but it does not really go into enough depth that such a large part of the project requires us to. There is only so much the beginning of a story can tell you. That being said, there is one plus for being chosen to analyze the first act. Due to the fact that our scene not only introduces everybody to the play, but also introduces the plot and the complete background story of Hamlet’s family, it will be interesting to see what kind of foreshadowing Shakespeare included. I am sure that by using the word list or the find collocates tool that I will be able to find many interesting things that elude to the next acts of the play. I am not sure how exactly I will use Tapor to analyze the development of these characters, but I am sure that it will be an adventure none the less. It always is with Tapor.

Using the Find Collocates Tool in TAPoR

This week, TAPoR has been working a lot better for nearly everyone. After playing around with this tool for a while, we were able to learn the strengths and weaknesses of TAPoR. Deciding that my favorite tool was the collocates tool, I decided to play around this with it, and to see if I could master it. With the taporware find collocates tool, you can look up a word that you might believe is significant, and see what words are used with that word most often. Fortunately, this tool was one that actually worked, and the results that it came up with were actually quite helpful. After playing around with this tool, tossing in random words to see different results that I would get, I decided to try to look for something a little more specific. While talking about Act three Scene four of Hamlet, my group and I discussed how there were many references to different senses, and uses of the words eyes and ears. So, branching out on this development, I used other tools first, like the word cloud and the list word tools, to decide which word would be best to look at. The word “sense” was used 7 times in this scene, compared to the word eyes that was used almost as often with six mentions. Deciding that these two words were very important, I looked up both words using the find collocates tool. To use the find collocates, the only thing you really have to do is type in the word you want to study, and pray that it works. These pictures show where you input the information, and the results I got from using the word “sense“, and then using the word “eyes“. As you can see, the word that has been used with the word “sense” the most often is the word “sure”, and the word “feeling” is the most common word connected to “eyes“. This information is a helpful start point, but unfortunately, it doesn’t help you to find meaning behind the words used together. The find collocates tool also, unfortunately, does not show us where these words are used within the act. To find them, we either have to guess the exact context, or find the use of these to words together some other way. Another thing that I wish this tool did, was tell me how many times the word “sense” and the word “eyes” were used. Although I know how many times in the scene it was mentioned from other tools, it would be nice to have that specific information included in the tool. Despite these few flaws, I do really enjoy using this tool. It is simplistic enough that a technologically incompetent person like me, can figure it out, considering all you really have to do is enter a word and press the submit button. However, as simplistic as it is to use, I also found it very helpful while trying to find themes within this act. Its definitely one of my favourite tools.

My experiences of what TAPoR can do, and what it can’t

TAPoR, although filled with gadgets and gizmos, is unfortunately, not very user friendly. Trying to work with the different tools, just to get used to the system and the layout of the program, was quite an adventure. With all the tools available, it is very intimidating trying to find data. That, mixed with the fact that this system is extremely temperamental, and that only certain tools work with the format, makes for a very difficult investigation. Through multiple attempts, and almost just as many failures, I learned that the only tools that will not come up with some sort of “error” message, are tools that end with (html). As well as that, I cannot seem to use my saved texts in the tools, and I have to resort to using a url. This is fine, except for the fact that some words that are not included in Hamlet are included when using these tools. For example, when using the tool TAPoRware List Words(html), words that Shakespeare definitely did not use, such as “email” and “cite” ,were included in the results. Another issue with this specific tool is that only the first five most common words used were shown what their distribution was. This is really quite pointless, considering the first two words are the names of the speakers, and the others are common words that don’t give us very much insight into the text. It would be a lot more useful to show the distribution of all of the commonly used words so that you can compare when they are used.
Besides the fact that this program has many issues and an arsenal of error messages, it is really not that exciting. After using different TAPoR tools for a long length of time, I find myself having to go to the bottom of the tools, and use the word cloud from Voyeur just to add some color to my life. As well as aesthetically pleasing, the word cloud tells me all of the information the List Words does, minus the dispersion of the first five words. Why can’t an actual TAPoR program be like this? Instead of listing words in monochrome colors and boring fonts, they should maybe try to focus on making the program a bit more fun to use. After they fix the program so that an error message doesn’t pop up every second attempt, of source. That should be their main priority.
Although the system has its flaws, and it lacks excitement, there is one thing I do really like about TAPoR. I think it was a really good idea of the creators to exlcude all of the stop words in their tools. The TAPoR tools do this automatically, and it does make it easier to find themes and connections without all of the words that we really don’t need to look at. With the Voyeur Cloud, words like “and” and “the” show up as the most used words, which we really don’t care about. You can change the format of this tool around so that it does exclude all of the stop words, but without help finding it, I would have never known that option was available.Hopefully, next week will be more about the text, and less about the program.