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.

Frustration and An Abundance of Claudius

Well we have reached the end. It feels strange to think that this is the last blog post. It feels like only yesterday when we were starting out in this course and already we are nearly finished it. Can you believe that I had never even heard of the digital humanities before January? Okay, musing over.

Let us jump into the project.

Looking past the ‘code names’ here, are the most frequently used words within Act 3 Scene 4 (which has approximately 1,789 words taking into account the ‘code names’):

We can see in this scene that Hamlet wants his mother to see what Claudius truly is as emphasized by the frequency of the words of ‘eyes’ ‘sense’, ‘look’, ‘come’ and ‘mother’. Now Kira, (the wonderful TaPOR member of my group) and I have been collaborating on examining the words of specific characters speeches throughout Act 4. Using the ‘Extract Text’ Tool in TaPOR she has been able to isolate several characters speeches throughout the Act including Claudius, Hamlet, Gertrude, Laertes and Ophelia. Now Claudius speaks the most in this Act by far, speaking just over 2,000 words total with Hamlet coming in second with 716 words and Gertrude speaking the least speaking time of all of the main characters, coming in at a mere 332 words. Now if I take all of Claudius’ words in the Act and stick them into Voyeur this is the result that comes out…

Claudius is very concerned about every other character in this scene. The fact that he is concerned about Hamlet is made obvious by the scene where Claudius is interrogating Hamlet over where he hid Polonius’ body and he both comforts Gertrude after her encounter with Hamlet and successfully talks Laertes down from the rage he felt by the fact that his Father had not been given a proper burial. In fact Claudius appears in every single scene in this Act minus the scene where Hamlet meets up with Fortinbras’ army. In first reading this Act my first impressions were of Hamlet’s wit when asked what he done with Polonius’ body (“At supper”) or of Ophelia’s descent into madness and her subsequent death. I had never before realized just how much Claudius appears in this Act until examining it with my digital tool.

Speaking of digital tool. Guess what I got today…

My first digital bug! Yeah! That sign kept showing up for ten minutes while I was trying to write this blog post. Just as I was about to start panicking the site came up again, however I was reminded of my group meeting this morning. In the meeting there were complaints about their tools not opening or giving error messages. Now Voyeur has been very picky about what kind of browser that I use with it and I do get error messages sometimes but they were easily dealt with. This, however made me get a glimpse of some of the frustration that my other group members have gone through in trying to access their tools. This for me exposes a major downside of the digital humanities. What is the point of having a tool to analyze text with, if the tool that you wish to use can not even be accessed easily and when you need to use it rather then when the server decides you need it.

Fingers crossed for the presentation everyone!

 

Moving Forward

As this project progresses I find that it is changing the way that I view text and how it can be interpreted. By reading through Act 4 on my own and taking notes on it, I discovered that while the digital tools offer some assistance in breaking down the text into pieces and analyzing them as such, I still much prefer simply taking out the literature by itself and reading it on its own. Referring back to the forest and the trees metaphor I used in my last blog, by using the digital tools I find that you are staring so closely at the text that all you can see is the cells that make up the tree and the singular tree itself. However, by moving back and examining the entire forest you can look at how the different trees make up an ecosystem and look at other factors of the environment that have shaped the development of the forest and the individuals trees. Which view you prefer is an entirely personal choice, and it certainly exists on a sliding scale. My main experience that I am going to take out of this course is one of balance and appreciation that I have been introduced to these new tools.  I will use the traditional method to examine text and if I feel that digital tools could be used to further examine the text I am certainly not adverse to any additional context they could provide to the whole.

Now moving on to the project itself. The TaPOR member of my group  and myself have begun to collaborate using out tools to examine Act 4. Using the ‘Extract Text’ tool in TaPOR she will be able to extract only the speech of the characters using a much her program. This expedites the process quite nicely as the last time I edited a text it took far longer then it should have and I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to repeat the process on an entire Act as opposed to a singular scene. Once she has completed that, then I will be able to examine characters separate speeches and differentiate between the speaker and the spoken of. I have thought of examining the differences and similarities between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the way that Hamlet and Laertes act as foils to one another, (both lose their father under mysterious circumstances etc.) and examining Gertrude’s speech when Hamlet is with her and when Hamlet is not present within the same room. Hamlet’s back and forth with Claudius after he has hidden Polonius’ body is another interesting piece of the text to examine. Hamlet uses quite a lot of symbolism and metaphor in this scene and some have taken his patterns of speech to mean he is mad. When I originally read the speech I merely thought he was being witty and did not detect madness unit brought up to me by my then English teacher. At this point in this project myself and my group members are still feeling out one anthers tools and working on collaborating with one another. Hopefully we can comprehensively analyze Act 4 without becoming too lost in the trees and loose sight of the larger picture.

Phase II: New Group and New Beginning

I am rather excited for Phase II, not only because of the awesome people in my group but also because we now have the ability to examine more text in a more in-depth way. I found in Phase I that while Voyeur is excellent at testing hypotheses, Voyeur is not a hypothesis-generating tool. It is difficult to come up with ideas about the play unless you go through and read it yourself. It is this method that our group is going to use first. By first reading and examining Act 4 without the use of digital tools we can, (at least briefly) divorce ourselves from our computers and focus on the text. I found while examining Act 3 Scene 4 that I often focused very heavily on the trees rather than the forest, losing myself in the details without the ability to focus on the larger context of the corpus. Hopefully by reading and taking notes on Act 4 before hand, myself and my group can find common themes with which to work and remind ourselves of the forest.

One advantage of now having an act to work with rather than merely a scene, is now Voyeur has more words to analyze and work with. I feel that every group will attest to this advantage. While Act 3 Scene 4 was an excellent testing ground for our various tools I think we can all agree that it is time to move onto bigger fish. Using my beloved Word Trends tool I examined Act 4 and was presented with this graph…

Plugging in the words “good”, “death” and “love” I am now able to analyze themes within the Act. As you can see, “good” and “death” seem to mirror each other. This revelation and others will be worth exploring in further detail as Phase II progresses. Simply because the two mirror each other does not necessarily mean that the two ideas are actually related to each other. It is also worth noting that “love” ascends in the latter part of the Act as “death” and “good” showcase a simultaneous descending trend and then suddenly rebounding back upward. What is responsible foe this trend? As I have not re-read the Act yet, I am unable to draw a connection between what is actually happening within the Act to understand why this occurs. Again, this is a trend worth investigating further into Phase II.

I am really excited to collaborate with the other digital tools after watching their presentations. I think that by working together we will achieve a more comprehensive and through view of the corpus then we ever would have been able to do on our own with our own respective tools. At the beginning of this course, I came out of the tutorials with a premature judgement of each of the tools already made up. I had decided which tools I liked and which tools I didn’t like and it wasn’t until each of the presentations that I achieved a grasp of what the digital humanities actually operated. The only way to really gain results in the digital humanities is to collaborate and cooperate. It is certainly possible to gain results using only one tool to examine the text however I would not advise it. My hope is that through Phase II we will each be able to use our tools best qualities as well as being able to rely on the other tools to make up for our own programs disadvantages.

 

Art Deco and Flexibility

While Voyeur possesses some wonderful tools for comprehending text, there are also some drawbacks, (although to be fair all of the tools have both their positives and negatives). Referring to my teammate Ruby’s post, (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/07/putting-aside-preconceived-notions-and-discovering-something-useful/) I completely agree with her about strange and redundant tools within Voyeur. The Knots tool was one tool that I specifically remember from the tutorial and I remember wanting to look more into it, however, I find using this tool provides little to no assistance in understanding a text. It is a tool for very visual learners and looks at the ‘path’ of words throughout the corpus and where they intersect with other words.

When you click on each “section”  of the knots, it takes you to where that word exists in the corpus. I find this tool to be messy and while it may be helpful for some people, my group and I agree that the Word Trends tool does the same job with more accuracy and less confusion. Other tools offered by Voyeur share the same issue, looking more like art deco then a comprehensive tool. Some tools in Voyeur accomplish the same task in different ways. Take for example the Bubble tool and the Word Cloud tool.

Bubble:

Word Cloud:

Both tools express the most frequently used words and organize them into a visual representation of that frequency. Now the main differences between the two tools are that in the Bubbles tool, there is a list of the top fifty, most frequent words in the corpus beside the visual and in Word Cloud the words are not separated and are expressed in different colours. One other difference is when you mouse over the words in Word Cloud you are shown how many times the word is used whereas in Bubbles that function is unavailable. Other then those minor differences, I find no real difference in function between the two tools. I personally prefer Word Cloud, however I would not mind some feedback as to why Voyeur developed what I find to be two extremely similar tools that accomplish the same purpose rather then developing a different tool that examines text in a different way.

Now it is not all bad. The Voyeurans and I have discovered many different uses for the tools that we do enjoy using and have discovered Voyeur to be a very flexible program which not only answers questions, but prompts new ones. I enjoy the freedom to examine different parts of the text on their own rather then being forced to examine the entire corpus/act/scene etc. For example, I can isolate the part of the scene when the Ghost is present and examine it separately from the other parts of the text where the Ghost is not present and look for differences between the two corpuses, (for example, whether certain words and themes appear more often or less often depending on the presence of the ghost). One complaint that I have heard from other groups is that it is difficult to separate the text you are trying to examine from the rest of the corpus. Perhaps during Phase II, this a way in which Voyeur can be utilized. I am looking forward to Phase II because I find that the more text you have to analyze the more interesting your results and being able to analyze an entire act rather then just one scene should lead to more comprehensive results from Voyeur.

Momentary Panic and Gradual Acceptance

Before starting this group project I was extremely hesitant about using digital tools to explore texts. Walking into class the first day, I was unaware of the digital humanities aspect of the course. I thought that it would be another run-of-the-mill english course complete with essays and when the digital aspect was introduced I will admit to being slightly taken aback. I was so used to the cookie-cutter high school approach to learning english, (read book, discuss book, write essay on book repeat) that this new approach to learning slightly scared me. Add two group projects and a twitter assignment and I am slightly ashamed to say that I became very dubious about the whole experience. However, through exploring my assigned tool (Voyeur) I am beginning to recognize the newfound advantages of the digital humanities and how we can examine literature through them.

Voyeur is an extremely nuanced tool with many different features for examining text. One of its strongest features is the visual element that it incorporates into nearly every tool that it offers. I find that the visual aspect offered to me by Voyeur allows me to experience text in a way that I otherwise would not have. Initially exploring Voyeur on my own the tool that caught my attention was the Word Trends tool. It divides the corpus you upload into sections and creates a graph showing either the relative or raw frequencies of words throughout the corpus. For example, (within Act 3 Scene 4) I looked at the relative frequencies of the terms “king” and “Hamlet” (When spoken by a character) and told Voyeur to divide the corpus into 10 sections. I achieved this graph…

Through this graph we can see when the subjects of “Kings” and Hamlet were discussed in Act 3 Scene 4, where they intersect and the rise and fall of these ideas throughout the scene. Through this tool I began exploring the frequency of other words throughout the scene and how the frequency of those words reflected the progression of themes and dialogue in Hamlet. This new graphical way of understanding text greatly appealed to me. In looking for other connections between words/themes I soon became frustrated with the XML file we had been provided. Voyeur takes the corpus as a whole and does not distinguish between Hamlet when referenced as a speaker and Hamlet when referenced by a character in the play. I created my own version of the text by copying and pasting the text from another source, making sure the text fit the version of the play we were given and giving “code names” to each speaker. To properly distinguish between Hamlet when he was speaking and Hamlet as referenced by another character, I gave him the code name Hmlt when he appeared as a speaker and repeated the process for Gertrude (Grte), Polonius (Plns) and the Ghost (Ghst)…

Using this system, not only was I able to separate speakers from speech, I was also able to track the frequency of each speaker though out the scene using the code names. For example, here are the relative speaker frequencies of Hamlet and Gertrude throughout the scene…

 

Those results are not incredibly surprising considering that Gertrude and Hamlet and the two main speakers within this scene however, it illustrates the flexibility of Voyeur and its ability to examine more then one facet of text. My group also discovered that Voyeur has a customizable layout where you can include different tools that are helpful to what you want to examine and exclude tools that are not quite as helpful. Overall I am beginning to warm up to this new style of examining text and hope to continue to discover more about Voyeur in the coming week.