Last Post of the Semester- My final thoughts on the Digital Humanities

Throughout the semester I faced many challenges and pleasant discoveries in the realm of the “Digital Humanities.” The digital humanities served as a further development to my previous knowledge of Hamlet, allowing me to realize just what I had missed when I was simply reading the text for what it was instead of carefully analysing it. This class, English 203- Literary Analysis, made me critically focus on what word choices Shakespeare used and how these particular word choices lead to his different types of play genres and character developments.

Of course, as I have passionately expressed before in my previous blogs- the digital humanities proved to be rather difficult at first and then just plain frustrating after I knew how to work it but technical difficulties came in the way. I thought- What’s the point of his?! I understand the play perfectly well! I know Hamlet is a tragedy play, I know how each character is and I most certainly know the events in the plot. But that wasn’t the point of this class- merely to read the play and write a summary on it. Dr. Ullyot pushed us by making us research and use the digital humanities (programs: Wordhoard, Wordseer, Voyeur, Tapor, and MONK), to help us understand the significance behind what happens in the plot. Identifying certain words demonstrated importance in knowing who dominated the play by speech, and it was easy to recognize each characters relationship with one another. For example, I was able to search a basic theme in Hamlet such as “death” and then do a double search by typing in a person, and seeing how many times death is said or related to that one particular person. This was a huge benefit of Wordseer, and I could keep adding further searches to have a solid idea of what I could potentially be looking for. That is one of the beauties of the digital humanities- one can use it as a hypothesis tool and then use the other tools to find different results. One can come out of it by getting little conclusions and ideas on one thing, or keep going until one has a massive conclusion encompassing everything one possibly wanted to find.

The image shows a comparative search in Wordseer using a theme (death) and a character (father). The image below that one shows the same results as the left, but with a further search of another theme (revenge).














Also, another benefit I found with the digital humanities was when I was doing my Phase 2 project with my group on Act 4. Kira, who was using Tapor, was able to find words associated with a character’s personality by checking the word frequencies of those words. The importance of this is that we found words used more often for one character than another, giving us a better idea of that character. This is an example of Kira’s finding in relation to Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.


According to this video I stumbled upon on Youtube regarding the digital humanities- are definitely points and arguments that I agree on and support. Whether I like it or not, the digital humanities IS the future of analysing literature and perhaps the presenter’s point on reading the literature online and using the digital humanities will have the perfect balance of using technology and still using the traditional method of actually “reading” the literature first. He mentions that it will serve to be eco friendly and create“openness.” By being open, I believe he means that information and data will be a lot more accessible, and this will be to everyone and not just a number of people in the publishing or scholarly world. As well as this, I take it that it could also mean that when one reads the text from a book and only trust their own instincts on their findings, it “closes” their mind up to further development on that particular text and by using the digital humanities, one will find more than what they thought or were expecting- therefore opening up their literary horizon. I will give props to the digital humanities for also serving as a social network in its own right. Sure, it’s not the new Facebook, but it is a link of blogs, videos, scholarly journals that anybody can read and one will keep reading and find more links that lead them to just that right person they need to know that will get them published or get them recognized for another piece of work. It does increase the competition no doubt as more and more people are getting their works “published” on the web, but the initial challenge of getting read is huge, and I believe the digital humanities offers that first step.

After mentioning this great opportunity the digital humanities has to offer, personally, I believe this just to be a bonus and not the end all, be all. I would never just go to the digital humanities and try to find everything that I could, because I much prefer the old method of reading and looking out for the important and thematic words myself. I do realize that this would take substantially longer, and technology serves to better convenience us, however, it takes away from the art form of what English students do and serves to be something that anybody, not just English junkies can do. There is nothing wrong with this, but I strongly feel that the digital humanities would be better as a secondary source of information and not the one and only source. There will be a time when reading a book and marking it up with findings will not even exist, but perhaps reading it for what it is and take what you get from it is good enough. Isn’t that how it was supposed to be when the work was first written? As the years go on, it is important to read through and understand the word choices because it gives one a glimpse of society and life back in the days, and it also helps us see how the English language has changed and transformed.

I was against the digital humanities for the main reason that it took away from the art, making something creative and crafted, into a scientific solution. It kind of reminds me of the point I learned in my Shakespeare class just recently concerning the romance play: The Tempest. Prospero uses magic to manipulate and create events to his benefit, and he describes it as his art form- something that can be altered and changed. If it were scientific, it would be fact- no change about it. So here I was thinking the digital humanities was trying to make art into fact, but I know realize that it is further adding creativity into the mix by changing our ideas of Hamlet rather than making us stick to our concrete biases and own judgment of Hamlet. So, was I originally taken the art away from this piece?

When studying a piece of literature, there are questions one is asked in order to analyse and annotate the text. There’s this video that is a good example of what questions one might ask about Hamlet and it is because of these questions that the Digital Humanities serves to be so vital in our entire understanding of the play.

Without finding themes, frequencies of words, relationships with characters and their characteristics, or characters and other words- it would be harder to answer one’s initial questions about the play. When going through the digital humanities, there is direct quotes and evidence in passages that would literally take ages to find on one’s own. It goes through the entire text or particular scenes or acts and does all the work for you pretty much, the only thing is that you must provide the technology with what to find. It still relies on our human smarts and literary knowledge in order to know what to look for and only then can it provide substantial amounts of data.

Why, Why, WHY??!!! Wordseer- give me a break will ya!

I found going through Wordseer this time to be frustrating once again! I would say shocker out of sarcasm because it would be something expected (and roll my eyes at the same time)…only this time I wasn’t expecting it. So I’m going to say it was a shocker because I honestly was shocked out of my mind! And that’s NO sarcasm, really! Although I know how to use it, it just so happened that everything I clicked gave me blank pages or no results. I’ve been trying to configure this program for more than an hour and it pains me to say it…I had zero outcomes! It was working so well for me during my phase 1 project that I can’t understand why now I can’t find anything I had found before. I’m still able to make snippets, and find related words or a heat map on one particular word. But I feel like I’m back at square one because it’s not simplifying my results. What I mean is that I can’t figure out how to separate the act, and more specifically- each scene in that act- giving me GENERAL information on the whole play which completely sets me further away from my main objective. I would leave it be, but I know Aditi fixed this issue so I’m determined to use it to my advantage, EVEN IF IT KILLS ME… which it totally is. My objective is to figure out the significance of act 4 giving me clues on words in each scene telling me more about each character and their means and objectives. My whole purpose for this blog was to figure out the relationships of the characters in this part of the play and what words give me that source of information. I’m sorry professor, but I find myself hating computers more and more, and going back to my Hamlet text to find something that Wordseer should have been doing for me.

Aditi, the developer has been great throughout, but I don’t get why it works for me sometimes and leaves me hanging other times. I know what it can do, that’s the thing! Wordseer helps me find amazing things.  For some reason however, the simplest things on Wordseer are causing delays, taking too long to load to find anything because the page has come across an “error.” I’m sure though once I figure out how to fix these little bugs that I will find more of what I’m looking for. It would help if my computer was fast enough and allowed me to visualize just act 4 from the rest of the play.

I know Madelyn, a member from my phase 1 group was able to find helpful insight from Wordseer on a word tree and heat map when it showed a scene in her act alone. I’m hoping she’ll be able to show me (or whoever in my previous group) what I’m missing, whether it’s a step or if I’m clicking the wrong things. Once they show me, I know it will be so much better where I can use all of Wordseer’s capabilities for my act and see how Shakespeare differentiates act 4 from the rest of the play. As mentioned before in my last blog, I wanted to find specific words that each character says and find related words to know what they really mean (going to the “backstairs world”) and seeing if I was right in knowing their fake and honest relationships.

I guess the most frustrated part for me is knowing that I am getting behind the rest of my group. They have information on what their programs have offered on act 4, where I’m still trying to figure out why I can only seem to read Hamlet from the corpus and that’s it. The funny thing is that this time, it didn’t even allow me to create a collection, and when the box appeared to let me add act 4 to it, I checked the collection box to find it empty. Aaargh! I need to figure out what’s going on with Wordseer so that I can properly include my input with the rest of my group and determine how we’ll organize our presentation on act 4 depending on what each program offers us. How am I supposed to give feedback on a certain character when I can’t even find the significance of act 4- making me unable to find anything useful for that character in act 4. This is so messed up! Phase 1 Wordseer group- I desperately need your help! Phase 2 group, please be patient with me.

Act 4 Thoughts…

The first official group meeting went rather splendid actually. I’m happy to say that I am in a group of keeners and we were all able to communicate our thoughts and expectations clearly. Saying that, the contract was easy to complete as we all wanted the same thing and the best part was that in order to keep everyone motivated on getting their tasks done on time- they would have to buy the rest of the group coffee if they didn’t do their work!


The great part about doing act four is that so much happens in this particular act in the sense that everything from the previous acts are finally tying together leading to the finale of the play. This is where I noticed a lot of character development. Going through the entire play, it’s evident that this happens earlier on, however, in this act you can see whose loyalties lie where and the secret backstairs world of the characters. It’s dirty, revengeful, and full of insanity!

Working with Wordseer, I know I shall have a lot of fun experimenting with what I can find in act four. There are many clues in the language that Shakespeare uses in giving the reader/ viewer an idea of what`s going on, but it will be interesting to see what Wordseer highlights as significant and if it differs from my thoughts or if it`s the same, helping me further analyse the act by certain words.

Something I`m hoping to focus on and find more about is Hamlet`s relationship with his mother, Gertrude. In parts of the play, the reader gets the hint of more than a mother- son relationship, where in this act it completely changes that thought when Gertrude is so eager to rat her son out to Claudius. I`m hoping Wordseer can better help me understand each characters relationship with other characters and who really are friends and foes. I already know this, but perhaps the program will lead me to other clues that might make me think differently.

In act four, scenes five to six, I find it highly amusing when Hamlet taunts Claudius of Polonius`s murder with word games, and saying that he(Polonius) was eaten by worms. This play on different words demonstrates different tones and tact of humor. This is something else that I`m hoping that Wordseer can put light on. The word tree will definitely come in handy as I can see related words which will give me the sense of what else Shakespeare could have meant when he wrote those words.

I`m looking forward to meeting up with my group again and seeing what other interesting things they find with their programs. Also, I`m excited to get in touch with my previous group again to see what Wordseer found for their acts.



WordSeer’s Clean comeback- Finally Satisfied!

Second blog post on WordSeer…let’s see, there was definitely many ups and downs!

First off, I think it is super sweet that Aditi Muralidharan took the time to read my blog and apologize for the slow speed of the program. Aditi, it isn’t your fault, this is how everything in life gets better- with trial and error- but I still greatly appreciate your sincere concern (<3). I came to realize this when working in my group on our presentation that we plan to show the class on Friday. I have a super great group and with all of our ideas and feedback it was going through the same process of getting through problems and finding the best way to convey our findings in the most correct and accurate way as possible. PS- spending 20 minutes on a sentence was well worth it! We discovered new things such as the “newspaper” application (thank you Richelle for this!) that highlights one word throughout the entire text. This was a really great finding, however, we as a group ran into the problem of not being able to do a “snippet” (highlighting an entire scene of the play) therefore not enabling us to use the newspaper application as we couldn’t get the one scene of 3.4 alone. This made it difficult to compare as we only knew the findings for the entire play leading us to the issue of not knowing how to include this in our presentation.

The neat thing in general about WordSeer is that through the “read and annotate” button (which at first many of us struggled with) we were able to make notes and highlights. We realized that even though it was a challenge to get just 3.4., when studying the entire text it is an amazing tool once the browser glitches are fixed. It is wonderful in doing initial research, allowing one to get a hypothesis and a good start in using other tools and methods to continue the research. The program is really organized, and lets us put our notes and tags directly on the text which is readily available too which serves as another convenience! WordSeer, I believe, is the best tool in finding certain words in a text and providing evidence that shows the significance of those words which leads to the understanding of theme and tone, characters, and meaning.

The one thing that I cannot be happier about in concerns to my digital humanities program is that WordSeer has a simple face, easing the troubled minds of the technologically challenged such as myself. Sure, I ran into problems, but in the overall experience of using this program- it came to be more pleasant than frustrating. It also helped that my group and I were very open with each other and we worked as a great team! Thanks guys, you all rock!

Once we navigated through the initial obstacles, the more we got used to our program the easier and less complicated it got. The results were clean and polished, and provided us many answers, even more than we had expected. It shows qualitative and quantitative answers, each result leading us to more search options and ideas.

To be honest, since WordSeer seemed the easiest program to use- I admit that I underestimated its capabilities. I remember in one of my twitter questions, I had asked if WordSeer would provide vague and simple answers as the program appeared basic compared to the more techie tools such as Tapor. I was pleasantly surprised to know that complicated and hard doesn’t lead to more intelligent and detailed results. Less is more in this case, and what a relief I tell you!


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.