One last thing…

Honestly, before I began English 203 this semester I had never heard  the term Digital Humanities before (crazy, I know!).  After taking a four month long course on the Digital Humanities, I can say that this form of learning will most likely be the future for most English majors. Using the internet to write blogs, show visuals, and share information within seconds is an incredible way to spread new information worldwide. Within the course of a year I have skyped with a journalist in New York, corresponded with a program developer at Berkley University, and reviewed an article by a writer at a University in Ireland; all in an English classroom in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This type of connection is what has changed the humanities to a digital atmosphere, collaborating with individuals worldwide. My argument for this post stems from the question: How do the digital humanities strengthen our knowledge of previously read texts?

Have we forgotten about Shakespeare? 

For our course on the digital humanities we definitely did something unique. Reading a play written by William Shakespeare in 1600, and using a computer program tool designed for the 21st century to analyze it. Every English major, scholar, or high school student, knows the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  When we were asked to once again analyze Hamlet, I was sceptical at the possible outcomes. Honestly, how many times can you go over a play and still find new information? Let’s just say, I was wrong. Over the course of thirteen weeks, I learned more about Hamlet then I ever knew before. It was not just the story and theme of the play, but the writing, word choice, and context of words used. Every aspect of analyses of this play was done online, by use of the digital humanities. Now I am not saying that I never had to use the hard copy of the play, because I did.  As I mentioned in my fifth blog post I do not think it would be possible to analyze a play—especially Shakespeare—without having read the actual text. Yes, you could extract the main themes, and guess a basic plot line based on the word and character usage, but reading the play is the only way to have all of the background information needed to understand it.

We began the course by simply reading Hamlet individually and discussed our findings in class. Once again I was shocked how much new information I was learning from my classmates. Group discussions took place and we came up with an incredible amount of new insights into Hamlet. Using evidence from the play these are just some of the ideas we came up with:

  • At first glance Gertrude comes off as a minor character with little personality. However she is surrounded by a number of questions which make her a major influence on the plot of the play. Why can’t she see the Ghost? Did she marry Claudius for love or power? What is her relationship with Hamlet, besides being his mother?
  • Characters use different words, comparisons, and sentences in their own unique way. For example Laertes often associates with the body and soul. When speaking to Ophelia he states: “…safety and health of this whole state…Unto the voice and yielding of that body/Whereof he is the head,” (1.3.20-23)
  • Hamlet often speaks of life, death, heaven, and hell, especially during soliloquies. Could these speeches foreshadow the events of the play?

“O all you host of heaven, O earth—what else?—And shall I couple hell? O fie! Hold, hold, my heart, and you, my sinews, grow not instant old/But bear me swiftly up. Remember thee?” (1.5.92-95).

Okay, so now we know the play and have analyzed it using nothing but our brains and a good old-fashioned book. That being said, how can our knowledge be strengthened by the digital humanities?

My stellar highlighting skills

WordSeer and the Digital Humanities

For the second part of the course we were split into groups and were assigned digital humanities tools designed to analyze texts. My tool was WordSeer, a Berkeley created program with multiple features used for analyzing Shakespeare. For me—or anyone not familiar with text analysis programs—beginning a presentation based on a computer program is kind of intimidating. I did not know where to begin, so I started playing around with the site and its capabilities with Hamlet. Not to sound too humble or anything, but soon enough I became a pro at using WordSeer. The interface is simple to use and understand, Shakespeare’s entire corpus is readily available, and the collections function allows you to save your work frequently and efficiently.  All of these features and detailed descriptions can be found in my first blog post: Could WordSeer be the simplest word analyzing program?

Now to discuss what I actually discovered using WordSeer.

All of us who have read Hamlet know most of the main themes: betrayal, revenge, and madness. But how can we prove these are themes? How many times are the words revenge or madness even mentioned in Hamlet? This is obviously not something that can easily be done using a highlighter. Why not use a digital tool that includes word counts, frequencies, and visuals to represent information in a different way? WordSeer has all of these functions including the ability to isolate and analyze a single scene or act. Very convenient!

So, once again, how can you tell if something is a common theme in a text using a digital tool? You find the word frequency of course! I think every group at some point searched for the word revenge in Hamlet using their digital tools. Finding the main themes of a play is essential when analyzing a text, and being able to isolate those words is pretty important. Digital tools are created to find these words within seconds.

Digital Humanities Now

In Mike Cosgrave’s blog post, A Broader Digital Humanities, he asks three questions based on the perspective of the student: How do digital tools enhance research led pedagogy? How do digital tools facilitate research led ‘peeragogy’? and What new questions can I ask using digital tools? As an English student I feel as if I can answer these questions honesty and accurately.

  1. How do digital tools enhance research led pedagogy?

This was a question I was trying to answer over the course of the semester. I also think this blog —and most of my other posts—does a good job of explaining it. We began the course by finding new and interesting facts about Hamlet through the digital tools we were assigned. This led to new discoveries and easier findings then just reading through the text. For example we were able to find out that the word know appears in Act Two of Hamlet 35 times. How long would it have taken if we were just using the text itself? Being able to search for words within a text and find them with the click of a button is pretty incredible compared to the hours it would take to find them on your own. These tools allow students to look at literature differently: in terms of quantitative versus qualitative and objective versus subjective views.  In conclusion, digital tools enhance learning by cutting down the amount of time it could take to actually do research and spend more time on the actual assignment/question.

2. How do digital tools facilitate research led ‘peeragogy’?

First of all I looked up the word “peeragogy” with no results (maybe someone should add it to Wikipedia? Make some money off the invention of a new word?). What I am assuming Mike Cosgrave meant by this term is student-led research and student-led research questions (feel free to correct me if I am wrong!). For me this question is easy to answer. We worked on two group projects this semester, both—for the most part—led by the students. We came up with our own questions for each presentation and—based on our tools—what we wanted to focus on. For these reasons using a digital tool helped our group collaboration because we were able to share our information online and each find different results.  To conclude, digital tools can facilitate student based research by simplifying the research process and broadening the scope of the information found and shared.

3.What new questions can I ask using digital tools?

One of the first things I discovered when using WordSeer was that no question was too broad and no answer too narrow. The possibilities of just using WordSeer are endless, let alone the four other text analyzing tools we researched. One of the main differences I found using these prgrams was the shift from qualitative thinking to quantitative thinking. I am going to re-use a picture I used on my previous post because it does a great job of explaining what I am talking about (and it looks pretty!):

From Mercedes Benz commercial

To sum everything up, the digital tools used in the digital humanities establish new questions based on a different way of thinking: more left-brain than right-brain theory, data versus opinion, and numeric versus artistic.

So, to answer your question Mike, yes I think the sciences use digital tools for data and research; the humanities are using this technology in a different way. To come up with new ideas, find information quicker, and present our findings in a different way than the past thousand or so years. This is what the digital humanities are based on and this is what humanities and social science classes have to look forward to.


So is this the future of the digital humanities? One which includes both social sciences and science courses?  Could the future of paperback books be in danger? Since basically everything can now be done using technology, why would anyone need a copy of a text to physically hold and read, as opposed to getting several versions of the same text online? As I finish my final blog post of this course I have come to two conclusions regarding the digital humanities and English courses. Firstly, if everything is moving away from books and towards technology, are the digital humanities the only way English courses can stay relevant and available? Secondly, with all the research and analysis of material needed in humanities classes, are the digital humanities just a faster way of gaining the same information? The content is already available, but the time we have to find it is not. I have no explanations to either of these questions, but I am sure within the next few years we will all get our answer.

The future Will?


Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor: London, 2006. Print. The Arden Shakespeare.

Thanks to: Mike Cosgrave and Aditi Muralidharan




Reading Versus Analyzing

Over the past few months of this course I have been thinking how examining Hamlet through multiple text analysis programs compares to actually sitting down and reading Hamlet. There are definitely some major differences. First of all, a general background of Hamlet—and of Shakespeare’s writing style—is extremely helpful. Knowing and understanding the characters feelings and attitudes becomes quite helpful when generating lists of words each character uses. For example, in the 21st century someone might describe Hamlet as crazy or mentally unstable, yet neither of those words is ever used throughout the entire play. Whereas madness is used a total of fifty times throughout the play, along with words such as: falsehood, jealousy, or likeness. Definitely not something you would know from just reading the play.

My group has also found it important to know the themes within the play before trying to search for specific words. Reading the play allows you to establish themes, whereas the tools just reinforce these themes. In Hamlet, some general themes are uncertainty, madness, and revenge. WordSeer is great at finding occurrences of words and when you already have a general theme these word frequencies become very valuable to analyze a character or specific line.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a new-found respect for the word tree visualization in WordSeer. I have come to notice its informative values, especially relating to context. Using the word revenge and searching throughout Hamlet, the word tree generated a visual containing the word revenge and all of its occurrences in the play. Clicking on any of the surrounding words connects the sentence to which it belongs to and highlighting it pink/red. I find this visual helpful because instead of just writing out a sentence containing revenge, it shows you what form it is used and can easily be compared to others by following the lines.

The main difference I noted when thinking about this course was the different ways in which a play—like Hamlet—can be interpreted. When I read Hamlet for the first time, I found I imagined the characters, settings, and story in my mind, creating a visual to go by. This is completely different when using these tools. Everything is a calculated answer to a specific question, with the visuals consisting of numbers and frequencies. At times I thought I was in a math class (gasp!). Similar in a way to how each side of the brain functions.

From Mercedes Benz

In regards to our Phase Two projects, my group has began to answer some of the questions previously asked, such as common themes and words associated with those themes. We have picked out specific parts of Act Two, and categorized them into the main themes of the act. Our tools have become useful for finding connections between programs and have begun to overlap and collaborate as one main tool with endless functions. Overall, this phase has brought together everything we have worked on over the course, while creating new ideas about Hamlet.

“Your search returned: 1345 results” Um, what?!

By now everyone knows that WordSeer has many useful functions, most of which have to do with word frequencies and finding words within a corpus. Now that we are able to isolate a single scene within Hamlet, my job has become significantly easier. Not only am I able to Read and Annotate one act, but I can apply it to either the Heat Map or Word Tree visual. Very effective!

In this example I used the word Hamlet and just looked at Act Two specifically. The heat map now shows where Hamlet appears in the entire act (in the first column) and scenes one and two (the second and third column).

This nifty little tool has been quite useful when comparing the scenes within the act. It is interesting to note the number of times Hamlet’s name is used within a scene—especially since his character does not even appear in scene one, but his name does.

Continuing on with the usage of Hamlet’s name within Act Two, I decided to take a look at the word tree—which, if you can remember from our Phase One presentation, did not prove to be very useful. Well, it took some time but I can know say I think I may have found a VERY interesting use for it after all. A word tree is automatically generated when a heat map is created and appears below. After typing in Hamlet into the search button and choosing Act Two, I scrolled down and saw this:

Now this may not look like much but let me explain. The word tree takes the word Hamlet and branches off with the most common words that are used before and after. This feature is great for looking at the context for which a word is used and I have found it most useful when using names, for example, Hamlet or Polonius.

Another part of WordSeer I have not written about previously is the collections feature. It is easily used and allows you to save your work in a collection folder—created by you—and keep all of your findings in one place. In terms of Act Two, I have created a folder that I can save all of my search results.

As mentioned in my group members previous blog posts, act two has a main theme of surveillance. When we had our group meeting today, we focused on what each tool could do when given a theme such as surveillance. Using synonyms, we generated a list of words that could be used—in Shakespeare’s vocabulary—to describe surveillance. Some of these words included: knowledge, know, see, spy, and listen. Using WordSeer, I decided to try searching the word knowledge; my results indicated that the word appeared one time. Somewhat helpful.

Next we tried searching know, instead. Our results all came back differently, depending on the tool used: 14, 35, and 26.

Either way, we are definitely making some progress; whether it is a tool suddenly creating somewhat useful graphics (TAPor), or a return result list of over 1345, at this point in our research any result is a positive one.

(I apologize for the ridiculous amount of screen shots in this post.)

Putting it all together

To begin working with an entirely new group of people and knowing that you are the expert on one tool is slightly daunting.  The responsibilities regarding WordSeer are now entirely on me alone. Scary stuff! Anyways, now that the stress of presenting is over (for now), it is time for me to get back to the text in question: Hamlet, and more specifically Act Two. When I first think back to Act Two, what comes to mind is Scene Two, one of the longest (if not THE longest) scenes within the play. If Act Two had a theme—separate from that of the entire play—it would be apprehension and suspicion. Characters do not just confront each other directly but instead go between other characters, further misinforming all parties involved. Why does no one just ask Hamlet why he is acting strange? Act Two is really the beginning of the rising action of the play: setting up the characters and plotline for the climax of the story. It introduces the players, begins to answer why Hamlet is acting so strange, and creates a conflict between Polonius and his son.

Anyone else remember this from high school english?

Our first group meeting went pretty well, and it allowed me to look more closely—and make connections between—our different tools. The one that I found most intriguing was Voyeur. To have the visuals, word frequency graph, and the play all on one page is very handy. The only part of Voyeur that is somewhat inconvenient is that you have to download the text onto the website. In this example, I used Hamlet’s soliloquy at the end of 2.2. Somehow I managed to add the stop words to the Word Cloud—shocking, I know—and was surprised to find that Hamlet uses Hecuba THREE times in one speech!

Another interesting observation—and one that Prof. Ullyot previously pointed out in a comment—is the similarities between WordSeer and WordHoard. Both focus more on the word frequency and analyzing aspect of a text, rather than the tone and themes of a play. I think this will be a huge advantage for both tools, and will allow us to share information between programs.

Of course it isn’t a normal day in English 203 unless something decides to not work. Today it was GoogleChrome. Now normally this would not be a huge problem for me except that WordSeer works best on GoogleChrome. Sadly, there will be no WordSeer screenshots from me today. Once again, thanks technology!

(I would be extremely grateful to anyone who knows how to make GoogleChrome a permitted program in my firewall settings!)

In regards to Act Two specifically, I think our group has a lot to get through. Hamlet has multiple soliloquies throughout this act, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make an appearance, and everyone is trying to figure out what is wrong with Hamlet. Analyzing this act calls for multiple read-throughs and discussions, as well as collaborations between tools and what each does to answer our questions.

Another day, another new discovery

I can now say that I have spent a considerable amount of time on WordSeer, and am (finally) beginning to get the hang of it. Although I will stand by my first post and once again state that WordSeer is a simple-to-use tool, it also has its challenges. The main issue that our group has noted is we cannot seem to isolate a single scene within Hamlet, and therefore have had problems when comparing 3.4 to the rest of the play. This has especially presented us with the challenge of integrating 3.4 into our presentation. If there is a simple explanation for this problem—which I am sure there is—I would be forever grateful!

Another feature I have just discovered (although why it took me so long—since this is a word analyzing tool—is a mystery to me), is Read and Annotate. It allows the users to read, highlight, and take notes, within any piece of writing on the site. Some may say, “Why not just use the actual book?” Well, for me, the answer is simple: my handwriting is terrible, and I often spend more time decoding my own words than I take to read the entire play. The Read and Annotate keeps a neat and organized collection of your notes, while allowing you to compare other works at the same time.

Another feature that was just discovered—many thanks to Richelle—is the Newspaper button. This allows you to search a word, hit Newspaper, and have the word appear on the a Heat Map. Super convienant!

These are just a few of the newly discovered aspects of WordSeer, since collaborating as a group and beginning our final presentation. One thing that has been talked about during our group meetings has been the question: Is WordSeer more a qualitative or quantitative tool? After a lengthy discussion on the topic—and a few awkward silences—we came to the conclusion that it involves both aspects. Searching for words and being presented with a list of results is a helpful quantitative tool. We can easily compare word frequencies within Hamlet and compare it to other plays written by Shakespeare. In contrast, WordSeer is also qualitative when receiving results and choosing which words are of importance within the scene. I think this is what makes WordSeer so unique; it provides multiple questions and observations that assist the users in creating hypothesis.

With all of the challenges I have encountered and hours that have been spent on WordSeer, I will say this: I am extremely happy that the entire corpus of Shakespeare is readily available for use, making it all the more faster when searching within a text. For this reason WordSeer is a great tool for future use, especially other Shakespeare courses. Thanks Aditi Muralidharan!

This has been a long week—with many early mornings—but overall I would say the results have been worth it. I have learned so much about WordSeers capabilities and how the tool works. However, my findings have not just been limited to WordSeer, but reading other classmates posts and comments, I have begun to understand more about text analysis tools and the Digital Humanities in general. I am looking forward to the presentations!

Could WordSeer be the simplest word analyzing program?

After hearing my classmates responses to their word analyzing programs in class the other day, I can honestly say I am lucky to have been assigned to WordSeer. WordSeer is simple to understand and easy to navigate. When we were first asked to watch the demonstration videos posted, I figured WordSeer was just like all the other programs we had looked at. Over the past few weeks I have begun exploring WordSeer; figuring out its capabilities, setbacks, and unique features. One of these features is the visuals it creates with just the click of a button. The “Heat Map” visual creates blocks of colour, each one indicating when a word appears within a text. You can choose which text—in this case Hamlet—you want to specify the search for, or you can choose more general and incorporate all of Shakespeare’s work. For example, in the first Heat Map I have used the word love as described in any relation to the word. Here are the results:

As compared to love in Shakespeare’s “Primarily Love” plays:

A unique function of WordSeer that is not used among the other word analyzing programs—that I am aware of anyway—is the related words function. I am guilty of right clicking in Word documents to find synonyms when I am stuck, and “Related Words” does just that. For example if I searched death throughout Hamlet but did not yield many results, I can click on the word and—similar to a Word document—search for synonyms.

One of the only problems I have encountered with WordSeer is the program is sometimes unresponsive. I have had issues with freezing on the website and computer, and more than once it has stopped working all together. At times nothing will happen when a button is clicked on. The only solution I have found for this problem is switching browsers. Personally, I find Google Chrome works best, although I have heard from other classmates that Firefox is also a good option.

Although I have explored the majority of WordSeer, there are still some features I have not thoroughly looked at. The snippet feature is still a mystery to me and although I have tried creating a snippet it usually just highlights the entire play, the exact opposite of what I intended. Exploring Hamlet as a whole has been quite interesting, and narrowing it down to a single act and scene, will be a nice comparison.

Overall, WordSeer has impressed me with its abilities. I am still new at the whole “Digital Humanities” thing, and computer programs follow closely behind. However, WordSeer has been easy to navigate, and even in one week, it has created new insights into Hamlet that I have not previously encountered. I am still amazed at the fact that WordSeer is able to analyze parts of Shakespeare’s work in seconds; I only wish I had known about it when I was in high school and Shakespeare was like a foreign language to me.