English 203 as a Macro-system for Measuring the Impact of Digital Humanities

Thesis:

In order to gain the most from any piece of literature when using digital tools, a balance needs to be reached. The reader needs to present both the quantitative results given from a digital tool, and the qualitative thoughts from personal readings in a balanced argument.

Introduction:

In the past we’ve seen several distinct disciplinary fields as a critical or central point of study within the humanities. New-historicism, post-structuralism, political theory, feminine and identity-based theories have all had moments in which each respective discipline has been the main focus at a post-secondary institution. This is especially true when considering canonical texts such as Shakespeare’s works. While it is common now for Humanities departments to focus on inter-disciplinary studies, should the digital humanities become a prioritized discipline, critical reading skills may become a thing of the past. The likelihood of this isn’t all that surprising, considering the Digital Humanities does not, itself, offer any new area of critique, but rather is supplementary to other critiques.  Simon Tanner is interested in measuring the impact that digitized resources can have on particular applications. He questions, “How has the digital resource delivered a positive change in a defined group of people’s lives or life opportunities?” Negative impact is important to consider as well, although it is a cynical view on the digital humanities. In this blog, I’m presenting my personal results from the English 203 course as a measurement of the impact of digitized resources on the humanities – specifically, on literary studies and analysis. I feel that my experience will outline that although the digital tools have a place in literary studies, they need to be carefully introduced and regulated to ensure critical reading and deep thought are maintained within the humanities.

 

Important Considerations:

  • TaPOR – there are strengths and weaknesses of the tool I personally used. While it may not be the best tool to produce a blanket statement on the digital humanties, it was nonetheless what I became most familiar with during the semester so my post will focus on it.
  • Focus on Hamlet – the depth of study that has already gone into a canonical text such as Hamlet certainly affects how much unique analysis digital tools can pull out of the text.

 

Initial hesitation with the Digital Humanities:

Like many of my fellow students in English 203, the first few weeks during phase 1, I had a certain stubbornness that led to hesitancy in embracing digital tools to analyze Hamlet. My fellow TaPOR ‘expert’ Kira summed up how I was feeling perfectly in her first blog post: “the tool is pulling my focus away from the text I am analyzing.” With this in mind, I made a concerted effort to use TaPOR sparingly and combine it with actual deep reading of Hamlet. The result was that during phase 2, I found a much healthier relationship between digital tools and the text itself.

 

Act 2 as an area of focus for Hamlet:

            One of the most fortunate aspects of having this digital humanities class in the winter semester was that I was able to study Hamlet in the English 205 class during the fall semester. The result was the ability to connect themes/ideas discussed and brought out by close-reading and critical thought from English 205, with the quantitative results that are given anytime a digital tool is used.

I discussed in my first blog post for phase 2, the word “know” caught my attention when I first uploaded Act 2 into TaPOR and ran the go-to List Words tool:

The connection of the pursuit for knowledge with “know” lead not only myself, but other group members in phase 2 (all of which focusing on their distinct digital tool of expertise) to narrow our analysis to the theme of surveillance. The theme of surveillance was, in this case, illuminated by quantitative results given by digital tools: the fact that “know” was written 14 times within act 2. Yet these quantitative results, on their own, are nothing but numbers. It was the human connection of “know” to the theme of surveillance that was most engaging and fruitful. Throughout phase 2 I found myself returning to knowledge I had gained in English 205. Whether it was re-reading notes and papers I had written from the previous semester or re-watching a clip of David Tennant as Hamlet, essentially I was going back to knowledge presented through lectures or close reading of physical, un-digitized text and re-envisioning it to fit with results TaPOR had given.  I felt most inspired in phase 2 during the moments I was connecting the vague results TaPOR gave, to my prior knowledge of the text itself.  Reflecting upon this implicates a question: was TaPOR providing me with useful quantitative analysis of the text, or was I just stretching information TaPOR gave me to fit with my prior knowledge of the text?

 

Qualitative vs Quantitative Results:

Consider the following results TaPOR gave on the lines in which “know” is uttered in Act 2:

While I posted this image in my second blog for phase 2 I did not notice certain options the TaPOR results gave me until I had looked at them for a second time. If we look in particular when Hamlet states to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “I know the good / king and queen have sent for you,” (Hamlet 2.2.244-45) we see a resulting question that TaPOR is unable to answer: Why does Hamlet use the word “good” to describe the king? Sarcasm is the most likely answer, but there are a few ways to approach it:

  • Hamlet is sarcastic, and his friends are aware of and understand his sarcasm.
  • Hamlet is sarcastic but his friends are oblivious to it
  • Hamlet is simply using a respectful term to mention both Claudius and Gertrude, and it says nothing about either his relationship with Claudius or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Whichever answer is chosen, it is important to address because it says something about a relationship between characters. It is through small moments like this that TaPOR was able to direct me into a spot in the text I may have glossed over before.

            Another example of this occurred when I used the CAPS finder tool in TaPOR on act 2:

With the theme of surveillance in my mind, TaPOR was able to direct me to the allusion to Pyrrhus at Priam found near the Acts end when the players are reciting: “Unequal matched, / Pyrrus at Priam drives, in rage and strikes wide” (Hamlet 2.2.395-96). Using the quantitative result TaPOR provided of the allusion, I could qualitatively connect the reference to the Trojan horse with the deception that occurs within Hamlet.

There were moments, such as those mentioned above, in which I had reached an effective balance between the digital tool and critical/deep human reading. These balances seemed to always occur when the quantitative results (the digital results given in unarguable quantities) were then qualitatively (tone, qualities, and connections based on personal readings) linked to a theme, character, or opinion. It is in this manner that I found textual analysis with digital tools to be most beneficial.

 

Measuring Impact for Digitized Resources:

Simon Tanner discusses in his blog the need to measure the impact digital resources have. He defines “impact” as: “the measurable outcomes arising from the existence of a digital resource that demonstrate a change in the life or life opportunities of the community for which the resource is intended.” From the use of digital tools in English 203, I found a change in the way I engaged with the text. Although it didn’t always feel like a positive engagement – in the academic sense – once a balance of digital humanities and, for lack of a better word, ‘old fashioned’ reading was met, the change (from humanities to digital humanities) became productive.

But how can this impact be measured?

This class itself is a way to measure the impact of digital resources on the humanities. Tanner discusses social impact assessment as an assessment that “looks more closely at individuals, organisations and social macro-systems.” The individual blog posts, and the academic community that followed from class/group discussion and online discussion in English 203 is itself a “social macro-system” for the digital humanities as a whole. In order to measure this particular social impact assessment, a simple reading of all the blog posts (in particular the final blog posts in phase 3) would suffice. The blogs could be categorized into positive and negative reactions to ultimately measure how positive or negative the impact of digital tools was on literary analysis, and ultimately on the humanities.

Conclusion:

The impact of digitized resources on the humanities based on my interaction during this course was, overall, positive. Again, this is due to the balance of qualitative, close reading and analysis of the text itself with the quantitative digital results of TaPOR.

Although close/deep reading and critical analysis was still a part of my experience in the digital humanities, I mentioned in the introduction my concern for the potential elimination of these skills. I’ll end this post with a point for reflection:

As mentioned above, it is important to consider TaPOR itself. Technology will undoubtedly improve (or perhaps in other tools, it already has) beyond the limitations I sometimes found when applying TaPOR to Hamlet. In the future canonical texts, such as Hamlet, may have been extensively incorporated into digital tools to such an extent that those tools have the ability to produce qualitative results. For example, the tool could have suggestions for why the word “know” is said as many times as it is in Act 2, or that Hamlet is, perhaps, sarcastic in mentioning Claudius as a “good” king.  If this is the case, those using the tool may not question the qualitative results and simply accept them. I personally never questioned the quantitative results given from TaPOR, yet still incorporated them into my analysis. If qualitative results can be given through a digital tool, where is the need to do any close reading? The text will, through the digital tool, have a defined reason or answer within it, and no further analysis will be needed. The relationship between the reader and the text would become hollow and unengaged, and the digital tool will have entirely pulled the reader away from the physical text being analyzed. All answers will, in a sense, be coming from outside the text itself.

It is because of this that I am most hesitant to proclaim the digital humanities should be a discipline that can be central to literary studies. If the balance between digital and personal interaction with the text can be maintained, as I was able to do during this course, then it is certainly a positive impact on the humanities. Considering technologies constant and constantly accelerating improvement, it seems unrealistic that future students in English 203 will be able to reach this balance as easily as I did.

Through a personal impact assessment of my interaction with digital tools and Hamlet in English 203, I was able to take a positive stance on the digital humanities because I found a balance between the digital results and my own readings. With the constant improvement of the tools being used in the digital humanities, will this balance be attainable in the future?

 

 

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Robert S. Miola. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2011. Print.

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TAPoR or Me?

I awoke this morning to find the TAPoR server not responding on any of my browsers:

I wanted to go into the final blog post for phase two by comparing the findings of surveillance as a major theme in act 2 with the rest of the play. In my first blog I mentioned the correlation between the word ‘know’ and the surveillance going on in act 2. Some early research (before the TAPoR server gave me error messages) found the word ‘know’ occurring throughout “Hamlet” 74 times. If I remember correctly, it occurred relatively close to the top the List Words tool, organized by frequency. While this lends proof that ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing’ are important aspects within all of “Hamlet”, just as they are in act 2, I don’t think I would have noticed the word had I not been actively looking for it. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but question: how much did TAPoR do to aid in proving/supporting the theme of surveillance? Are the results from certain tools actually quantitatively answering questions, or am I just bending the results?
My fellow colleague Madelyn pointed out in her blog a common thought we (the act 2 group) have had regarding digital tools: “[it’s] important to know the themes within the play before trying to search for specific words”. I don’t think results from any digital tool are always consciously bended to support claims, but being vaguely aware of what you’re trying to support (whether it be themes, character traits, or something else) certainly must effect how you look at the results.
Before using TAPoR to analyze act 2, there were already so many different readings of it planted in my brain. Whether it be the first time I read “Hamlet” in high school, the different footnotes within the two editions I’ve read, the lectures Dr Ullyot gave in English 205, the modern adaptations Sparknotes provides (or it’s analysis and summaries), or even from other sources online, I already had so many ideas and views surrounding act 2 of “Hamlet”. With all this analysis that I had already done, the act of pressing a button in TAPoR and matching the word “know” to an overarching theme of surveillance just seemed rather trivial. Sure, I enjoyed getting past the frustrating parts of TAPoR and actually finding results, but after using it to analyze first act 3 scene 4, and now all of act 2, I still find my analysis feeling less academic, and more hollow.
I still think there is a place for digital analysis of literature, however, and feel that my discouragement may have come from trying to analyze a text I was already deeply familiar with, and not from TAPoR itself. While there are certainly drawbacks to using TAPoR, and any digital tool for that matter, I can definitely see a use for them to aid in beginning to analyze a text that is still rather unfamiliar.

Act 2 & TAPoR: Round 2

I concluded my last post assuming that my tool (TAPoR) wouldn’t be able to take me much further in analysis of act 2. After some reflection on that, I’ve decided that there really can’t be just one useful tool in TAPoR – that being the List Words tool. So in this post I’m going to bring the tools I’ve previously cast aside to the forefront, in the hopes that they can further push this analysis of act 2.

I have noticed in Phase 2, that having a decided theme to look for before using most of the tools within TAPoR is helpful. In Phase 1, perhaps because of the shorter text to analyze, most of the times this still seemed fruitless. All group members found the themes of surveillance, and spying as a central theme within act 2. In my last post I discussed the frequency in which the word “know” is used, and connected this to the overall theme of surveillance.

Below is a list of all utterances of “know”, and the line surrounding each utterance, generated by the Find Collocates tool:

– Above being scene 1, and below being scene 2

What struck me as interesting about this list is that “I know” is the most common phrase surrounding know. Sure enough, using the Word Pairs tool, “I know” comes up 5 times within act 2:

I’d be willing to bet that Polonius is the one who states most of these “I know”s. In my previous post I’d proposed that he is involved in so much surveillance as a means to stay relevant in the court. Going around and stating you know lots of stuff is certainly a way to stay relevant. Is there any program that has a tool that can quickly find who says what? Perhaps a fellow group member with a tool better adapted to this can respond.

While it may just be two new tools I’ve used alongside the theme of knowledge, these tools did effectively save some time. I’m not sure I would have even noticed the “I” connected to “know” on so many occasions using old fashioned close reading.

I believe it was due to working out this act with others that used different programs that inspired me to try and look passed the difficulties TAPoR can present, and just pull all I could out of tools. Fellow group member Kassidy noted in his last post that Polonius speaks on 68 different occasions in act 2. It was through this insight that I was able to use another tool in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

Below is the always popular list words tool:

‘Plns’ and ‘Hmlt’, are of course Polonius and Hamlet, but when written outside of conversation such as a speaker cue or stage cue. In the past I thought the inclusion of “plns” and “hmlt” was useless, but while the number is slightly off for Polonius’ moments of speaking (65 TaPOR shows), it is still getting the same information that Kassidy got from Voyeur. We discussed the fact that this ’65’ or ‘68’ would include stage directions such as “enter plns”, but nonetheless this allows the conclusion that Polonius is involved in this act a lot. This is information also helps the theory that it is Polonius who utters the most “I knows” within this act, and is therefore most concerned with the pursuit of knowledge through surveillance.

Also, I finally remembered where my knowledge on the theme of surveillance came from: a Dr. Ullyot lecture! Those of you from the 205 class last semester will remember this “Hamlet”  adaptation:

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2

This clip from act 2 has Claudius and Polonius standing behind a one-way mirror while they spy on Hamlet’s interaction with Ophelia. Hamlet also becomes aware of being watched and asks Ophelia where her father is as he looks up into a surveillance camera. It’s Perfect visualization for the themes going on in this act.

Someone’s always watching

To begin analysis of Hamlet Act 2 using Tapor, I went to the one tool that offers the most information: List Words. Below is the list of words that came up, ordered from highest to lowest.


The word that caught my attention most was “know”. My first impression upon re-reading Act 2 was the same as anytime I’ve read Act 2. Polonius is a prize buffoon. How he managed to become a counselor to the king surely says something about Claudius… But back to “know”. Knowledge is something key within all of “Hamlet.” How this knowledge is obtained – or failing to be obtained – is very interesting.

Act 2 contains within it a lot of surveillance of characters upon characters. There seems to exist within “Hamlet” a constant pursuit of knowledge and truth in order to either justify actions, or to deceive for personal gain. Polonius, inflated windbag that he is, is certainly at the center of a lot of this surveillance, or spying.

Here is a list of examples of surveillance within act 2:

  •             Polonius on Laertes through Reynoaldo
  •             Polonius on Ophelia regarding Hamlets courting
  •             Claudius on Fortinbras through Voltemand regarding war with Norway – this is the only example that actually has any concrete reasoning behind it
  •             Polonius and Claudius and their original plan to hide behind the wall tapestry in an attempt to get Ophelia to bait Hamlet into admitting his madness-inducing love for her – this plan gets spoiled when Hamlet suddenly arrives, but still leads to:
  •             Polonius questioning Hamlet – and Polonius thinks he’s so clever with his snide little asides.
  •             Claudius on Hamlet (by sending Guildenstern and Rosencrantz – Hamlet doesn’t even have to twist Guildenstern’s arm to get admission of this)
  •             And finally, the arrival of the players at the Acts conclusion foreshadows Hamlets surveillance on the King during the play.

For a rather short act, I was very surprised to find as much spying as I did. What’s interesting about all these is that most of them involve either sending someone else in to spy for you, or of course Polonius’ go to plan: hide behind something! The curtain eventually does him in of course…

So why does so much deceitful spying occur? Considering that most of these are familial relationships, the amount of passive aggression and distrust is shocking. Did it ever occur to them to just ask each other about anything? Is this, perhaps, Shakespeare’s subtle way of addressing the politics at the time?

Using the surprisingly helpful tool “CapsFinder”, the allusion to Pyrrhus also comes up:

While the Trojan horse may not be as brilliant as hiding behind a curtain, or sending your servant (Reynaldo) to candidly ask strangers about your sons (Laertes) alleged gambling/sex addiction, it is still another example of deception being used to gain the upper hand.

So with my focus on the constant schemes to gain knowledge through secret surveillance, how can I use my digital tool, and fellow group member’s tools, to delve deeper? Within Tapor, beyond searching for words that occur around “know” or simply searching for synonyms, I feel it can’t take me much further. Lemmas would be a very useful tool – MONK or Wordseer? Voyeur/Voyant would definitely be helpful in producing distribution charts of where certain words (like “know”) show up. Also, if there’s any tool that can easily detect who says certain words, that would be helpful to. I have a feeling it’s mostly Polonius, being the delusory little blowhard that he is, who is mostly involved – Yet it is the surveillance between Hamlet and Claudius that is most central to the play as a whole.

Hamlet’s madness via TAPoR

The shift in tone and demeanor of Hamlet within Act 3 scene 4 is fairly easy to notice. In the opening stages of the scene he is forceful and confidently lecturing his mother. By the scenes end he seems disoriented, and intensely trying to defend his sanity to his mother and get out as soon as possible. This shift occurs directly after the ghost has exited and Hamlet is coming to the realization that only he was able to see the king’s ghost (unlike the first time the apparition appeared). The timing of Hamlet’s shift in demeanor indicates a crucial moment for conclusions (for or against) regarding his madness – as the ghost is definitely a central figure to this argument.

The short questions Hamlet directs at his mother seem to be a sobering moment for him: “Do you see nothing there?” (3.4.133) “Nor did you nothing hear?” (3.4.135).  Is he questioning his own sanity here? Sparknotes, in the 3.4 summary, suggests Hamlet is desperately trying to convince his mother that his madness is an act. They go on to state that this is a “point in the play where audiences and readers have felt that there is more going on in Hamlet’s brain than we can quite put our fingers on”. TAPoR directed me to this desperate speech of Hamlet’s while using the highlighter tool to search for “madness” – he states it 3 times within only a few lines; This repetition indeed comes off as “desperate” – and desperate perhaps because it is not just Gertrude he is trying to convince, but also himself.

Following this, Hamlet is flustered, as if his thoughts are somewhere else. His mother asks about her divided heart, and Hamlet seems to respond in a rather uninterested way: “Oh, throw away the worser part of it, / and live the purer with the other half. / Good night.” (3.4.160-162). This response is a far cry from the Hamlet of just a few moments ago who was vehemently trying to force his mother to notice the godlike features in Hamlet Sr. that Claudius lacks.

Hamlet then (he seems to forget that he just stated “good night”, as if to leave) goes into a rant asking his mother to stay out of Claudius’ bed. He then utters “good night” 3 more times before actually exiting the scene, each with haphazard thoughts thrown in between. In the latter half of this scene we see Hamlets lines are far different from the forceful, and confident ones he uttered when he first entered. While he is still at times passionate, and definitely just as shocking as his earlier lines had been, there is something different. He has become introverted, and, as the several utterances of “good night” indicate, he is urgently trying to leave. This is a pivotal moment with the play in which we see Hamlet himself seriously questioning his sanity.

I have intentionally left out any mentions of TAPoR (besides the highlighter tool) up until this point for two reasons:

  • As my fellow TAPoR colleague, Kira, pointed out in her first blog post, “the tool is pulling my focus away from the text I am analyzing”. Upon finishing my first blog, I realized that I had barely read from the text itself. I wanted (and felt it necessary) to come to conclusions with a healthy amount of quotations directly pulled from the text. This leads to my next point.
  • The second reason TAPoR hasn’t been mentioned that much, is because I didn’t use it to directly come up with any of the thoughts I have mentioned.

As contradictory as it may sound with the above statement, TAPoR was still a crucial piece of engaging with the text as much as I have. This stream of thought would not have played out had it not been for my intrigue upon first seeing the distribution of the word “good” in the List Words tool as pictured below.


The reason “good” occurs so much in the latter stages of this scene is, of course, because of Hamlets consistent (and disheveled) stating of “good night” before jumping right back into a rant.

To paraphrase something Professor Ullyot mentioned*, the way TAPoR worked most effectively for me in this analysis, was simply as a new platform to produce thought provoking ideas. The quantitative analysis produced from TAPoR may have not been very in depth (I am only a beginner after all) but it did produce some extensive close reading and qualitative thought. TAPoR may not have been present the whole way through my working out of Hamlet’s madness within this act, but it definitely helped stir my interest and come up with an argument.

After this analysis I would conclude, based solely on the evidence gathered from Act 3 Scene 4, that Hamlet is slipping/has slipped into madness and is not just acting.

 

* I think he stated something along these lines. I thought it was in a blog post, but I could not find it anywhere… maybe a class discussion? If anyone can remember let me know, if not, Professor Ullyot, sorry for putting words in your mouth!

Thoughts on TAPoR analysis of Hamlet 3.4

The most noticeable thing about TAPoR is its seemingly infinite amount of unique error messages, and lack of user-friendly design. When analyzing a text, if I use more than one tool per session, the error message: “Sorry, you are trying to access a private text. Please login or contact the owner of the text for permission” is shown. TAPoR also helpfully supplies an analysis of the text within this error message with whatever tool I was trying to use.

Besides this interesting quirk, another issue is using TAPoR on such a small part of Hamlet (Act 3 scene 4) as opposed to the full text. This renders the most visual tool, Fixed Phrase, useless. “Visual”, on a side note, is a very generous word to describe this tool. Below is an example of using Fixed Phrase to search the word “look” through all of Hamlet vs just act 3 scene 4.


 One positive use of TAPoR is the CAPs finder tool – a tool that finds all capital letters, excluding those at the beginning of the sentence. It allows you to easily find the allusions made to Mercury, Jove, and Mars (3.4.57-59).  It is not without its flaws though. Due to the tool excluding the beginning of sentences, it misses the allusion to “Hyperion’s curl” made in line 57.

 The most useful tool on a small space of analysis is the List Words tool. This tool, when sorted from highest frequency to lowest, shows the most common words found within 3.4. Excluding character names, the most common words are “thou”, “look”, and “good”. What is most intriguing about this list is the distribution of the world “good” within 3.4. Of the ten times it is said – and mostly by Hamlet – it is almost entirely after the ghost has come and gone.

You’ll notice that the distribution graph mysteriously ends after the first 5 words. It is the same when analyzing the full text, and unfortunately the word “good”, although said a lot throughout Hamlet, does not get a distribution graph. This makes any comparisons between words in 3.4 and the rest of the text a little discouraging.

From conversations within the TAPoR group, we decided the two most important themes for this scene are Hamlet’s madness, and his relationship with his mother. The distribution of the word “good” – being that it mostly occurs after the ghost advises Hamlet to calm his mother – along with the fact that it is Hamlet saying the word to his mother 9/10 times, hints that there is something to gain from this analysis for both themes. The theme I feel it most strongly says something about is Hamlet’s madness, or his false madness.  Whether or not the word is used as a simple pleasantry (as it often is with “good night”), doesn’t affect the importance of this analysis. His repetition of the word after the ghost’s appearance suggests that he is either trying to convince his mother, himself, or both that all is “good”.  My first tentative conclusion is that Hamlet is questioning his own sanity due to the fact that his mother was unable to see or hear the apparition he believed was in front of both of them. His reaction is to hastily bumble several “good nights”, as well as several other mentions of being “good” and calmly drag Polonius’ corpse from the room as if nothing is wrong.

More quantitative research will be needed to confidently assert this. Searches, frequency, and distribution of synonyms (such as “fair”, “well” or “fine”) could help prove or disprove this conclusion. Close reading, and more qualitative analysis outside of TAPoR (before trying to work with this information within TAPoR) will help form my next post.