In the beginning…
In the words of Hamlet, â€œNothing is either good or bad, but thinking it makes it soâ€. The
digital humanities have two basic critics. The first welcome and anticipate the
new ways of learning through up to date and ever expanding online sources, and
the second to put it simply, arenâ€™t as subject to change and prefer the hands
on approach with the actualÂ play in front of them. However, I find it rather
difficult to associate myself with either group, due to the fact that I feel I
was given a false first impression of all that the Digital Humanities can do
for us. The troubles encountered throughout the term were far from miniscule,
and of course I made sure that everyone knew the feelings I was experiencing,
mostly in a particular phase 1 blog post, â€˜The building similarities of Ophelia and I.â€™ Once
you begin associating yourself with a suicidal and slightly insane Shakespearean character, Ophelia, you know things
arenâ€™t going so well. To say I had some difficult times is a drastic
understatement. If I had to declare a general theme as the base of my blog
posts as a whole throughout phase 1 and phase 2, I would probably say it was Self Pity. My focus was almost strictly
centered around what my text analysis program Monk couldnâ€™t do.
Shakespeare expressed through Hamlet how he felt that the world is run by
opinions, which we often listen to more so than the actual facts. While the
Digital Humanities may have proved themselves useful to me, I developed a
rather sour view on text analysis programs in general, due to the frustration
and confusion I experienced with Monk. It was not until I read Tara Andrewâ€™s
blog post, http://byzantini.st/2012/04/coding-and-collaboration.html, that I
began to understand that the issues I was encountering were not completely one
sided. Andrewâ€™s post was able to open my eyes to the difficulties the creator
undergoes while not only learning to code, but the making of a program. Despite
Monk having swayed my opinion to the negative side of the Digital Humanities at
the beginning, Andrewâ€™s and some further research gave me a new perspective on
how Â this â€˜newâ€™ concept of studying texts deserves not only recognition, but an understanding of the background work that
goes into it. Due to the unpleasant nature of my ongoing negative issues with
Monk, I am unable to say that this particular program came in use. If I had to
choose between Monk and simply reading through the text myself, I would pick
the old fashioned novel-in-my-hands approach. BUT, after some deep thought,
reading Andrewâ€™s post, and discovering a new find appreciation towards open-mindedness,
I have come to the conclusion that text analysis and the Digital Humanities in
general is a useful alternative to how we would once analyze particular
Questions, Questions, and More Questions…
Throughout the progression of not only this class, but my own personal time spent at home
in front of the computer, I developed many questions regarding not specifically
Monk, but text analysis in general. At first it was hard for me to understand
what I was doing, let alone WHY I was doing it. As was mentioned in my very
first blog of phase 1, http://hannahlacoursiere.ucalgaryblogs.ca/?p=3,
I referred to my difficulties by stating, â€œI feel the need to blame it mostly on my extreme lack of abilities to operate a
computer properly.â€ But it wasnâ€™t just my rather small knowledge on technology that was setting me back. In
order for me to understand things properly, I have to know WHY I am doing it,
and for some reason this was hard for me to wrap my brain around. I kept asking
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â What is the point of text analysis?
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Wouldnâ€™t it just be easier to stick to the original old fashioned way of strictly learning by hands on approach with the
novel right in front of me?
Following my discovery of Andrewâ€™s blog post, which mostly expressed the difficulties faced by the creator, I developed two new questions:
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Is either individualâ€™s effort worth it?
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Do the struggles that both ends of the spectrum experience through learning and creating ultimately pay off?
Monk and Failed Expectations
Spending all of your time on analyzing the negative side of a
particular subject, doesnâ€™t help anybody, especially when you are working with
a group. Nevertheless, I continually felt as though I was a big disappointment
to my entire phase 2 group, but as hard as I tried I couldnâ€™t seem to find any
value in what Monk had to offer me. It was only once we were able to
collaborate our programs uses that I figured out a way to look at texts through
Monk in a seemingly helpful manner. By receiving frequent text lists from my
fellow Wordhoard and Voyeur experts, I was able to examine the context in which
they appeared through the Concordances tool, as seen below.
For example, after discovering that â€˜alasâ€™ was a commonly used
weird amongst Gertrudeâ€™s vocabulary, I searched it through Monk, and was able
to get a better grasp on the particular situations in which she used this
specific word. I often wondered if what I was doing would have been just as easily
done by examining the text by looking through the actual play, but in this
case, Monk proved itself to be a time saver as well as it was able to show all
the occurrences of the word in a list, which saves you from having to flip back
and forth through the book.
Originally I had been anticipating using the comparison
tool, which had been Monkâ€™s finest achievement due to the fact that this
program was created to be used as a way of comparing two separate texts. Unfortunately,
when the time came to start developing our phase 2 presentations, it stopped
working. Typically, it is supposed to work like this:
You choose a first workset followed by a second, select the
analysis method you want to explore (frequency comparison is used in the
example above), choose between spelling or lemma (lemma is used in this case)
and finally specify which feature class you are wanting to look up (noun).
The purple displays the most frequently used nouns in Shakespeareâ€™s
tragedies, and then green does the same but with Shakespeareâ€™s comedies.
Although it isnâ€™t shown in the screen shot, once you scroll down there is a
list of white words which shows us the most commonly used words combined
between the two texts being examined. Using this in regards to phase 2 seemed
ideal due to the premise we created, being to compare Hamlet with other
Shakespeare tragedies. But, like I mentioned, it wouldnâ€™t work. Monk would
simply not recognize the worksets I had previously defined, and despite changes
in browsers and login names, it wouldnâ€™t budge. The frustration I was feeling
only seemed logical to direct it at none other than the creators of Monk.
Obviously they had done something wrong, and by not fixing the current issues,
it seemed as though they had abandoned their creation and left the users to
deal with the problems at hand. And then, I read a blog post that changed my
previous opinion, almost entirely…
Discoveries Through Another Perspective
Tara Andrews, author of Codes and Collaborations was able to open my typically stubborn eyes with her take on the perspective often ignored; the problems the creator endures while creating a text analysis program. In the words of Gertrude…
â€œThe lady doth protest too much, methinksâ€.
Yes, Gertrude, Iâ€™d have to agree. It was about time I stopped
complaining, and learned more about the forgotten point of view of the creator.
Andrewâ€™s addresses some of the disheartening moments of failure in
her blog post, stating â€œFor all the â€˜Eurekaâ€™ moments, there are a hundred moments of wondering why your test is failing nowâ€
and â€œ…the sinking feeling that you have solved this particular annoying data transformation problem three separate ways on four separate occasionsâ€. The author points out that while using this programs is encouraged, it is often worthy of your time
in the long run to learn how to do coding yourself. Not only would it give you
a new found appreciation for all the behind the scenes work that is put in
while making a program, but it would also help you figure out what all can be
discovered through text analysis.
While I have to say that I am, and will always be an old fashioned gal at heart (at least in
regards to English), throughout this term, I’ve begun toÂ see the actual worth in learning about
and using the Digital Humanities to help me with analyzing texts on a deeper
level. I refuse to let my negative experience with Monk affect how I feel about
text analysis as a whole, because from what I could see from the other programs
we learned about, Monk was the exception when it came to non-useful programs. I felt as though this class was more than just an introductory course on all the Digital Humanities canÂ assist us with. IÂ deeply appreciated the chance to write in a more casual manner than is usually expected in a typical english class.Â I wasÂ educated not only on text analysis,Â Hamlet, and how toÂ conduct a proper blog post, but I also saw that there is anÂ extreme amount of value in opening your eyes to other ways of approaching a subject which is usually so set in stone, in regards to how it not onlyÂ taught, but how you interpret it. Taking a look back at the questions I had originallyÂ been asking myself,Â I’d have to say things are much clearer now. I see the benefits in the Digital Humanities as opposed to analyzing textsÂ inÂ previous more traditional ways. Not only is it much faster, but you are able to see things in ways which are much harder to grasp while simply reading a hardcopy of the play. Â Is the effort put in by both sides of the party worth it? Does it pay off? I can’t answer this for everybody, but as for the learning aspect, yes. I do believe it pays off. Not to mention it never hurts to expand your knowledge on any given subject. In regards to the creation side, as Tara Andrew’s said, “Understand that the things you want to do are still going to be hard, and forbiddingly time-consuming, without any sort of guarantee that the investment will pay off.” Not exactly uplifting, but it’s a choice people make. I for one, am thankful for those people.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2006. Print.