The Digital Humanities: 01 Tangent: 00

With email and text abbreviations lowering our I.Q.s more than smoking, the possibility of Google turning the world into a 1984 disaster, and our luxury CO2 emissions causing the planet into becoming a Day After Tomorrow catastrophic mess, it is no wonder that we future English majors and current humanists of the world want to keep our traditional methods.  Science versus nature: a situational archetype we are all too common with is becoming an ever growing concern in our world today.  Fearing change and the possibility of technology getting into the wrong hands is a common fear that we all have.  On that note, have any of you heard of the brain cells that can communicate with a computer chip?  Check out this video here.  Terminator, anyone?

And just when we [art students] thought we were safe with our ratty Shakespeare books and old fashioned book-in-one-hand-pencil-in-the-other-staring-squinty-eyed-at-unreadable-text-under-awful-lighting method, in comes the Digital Humanities.  And we think to ourselves, “No! This is the exact reason I chose this department! So I would never have to look at numerical concepts again”!  Personally, it wasn’t a lack of familiarity with technology but rather a certain stubbornness that comes with the study of literature which is to stick with our traditional and – let’s face it – pretentious methods.  My assumption, from reading the other blog posts in Phase 1, is that most of us had this notion at the beginning of the semester in one way or another.  I learned two major things after my semester of digitalized humanities: the first being that digital tools do not make analyzing a text easier to comprehend (connections are not magically revealed to you) but instead gives the student every possible angle (depending on the tool; sorry Monk…Kate says you’re not invited) to analyze the text from.  And the second is that I will never doubt my own abilities to tackle traditional methods with digital methods ever again.  Thinking back to the debate we tackled in class (The Digital Humanities: The future or a tangent?) the Digital Humanities is too fragile at the moment to be divided evenly into two such categories.  There were frustrations with tools such as Monk yet I luckily had many great results with my tool, Voyeur.  Martin Mueller, professor of English and Classics at Northwestern University writes “they have so far put the digital into a ghetto – a mutually convenient practise for those inside and outside, but probably harmful in the long run”. But what does that mean really?  Are we, as humanists, too stubborn or too scared to approach digital methods?  Or that “the analysis of canonical texts by highly skilled readers with decades of experience…not likely that machines will add much insight”? Aditi, the creator of WordSeer, made changes to the tool as the Phase 1 group tackled problems with the program.  The Digital Humanities is still evolving and this evolution luckily took place right within our classroom as we got to see Aditi make changes to the program.  Referring back to the debate in our last lecture, the “tangent” side brought up the argument that the Digital Humanities takes away from the “art” of reading and analyzing text that we English Majors pride ourselves on.  This is apparently what separates us from everyone else.  I disagree with this.  What separates us is one, our common interest in wanting to pursue the study of humanities, and secondly, the dissecting and re-sculpting of ideas and literature introduced centuries prior and incorporating them in the world that we live in now.  And this world is one of technology. Therefore, how we go about this is not the art of the study of humanities but how we regenerate it, is.  I have studied Hamlet several times prior to this semester, seen various film adaptations, and stage productions, yet the Digital Humanities helped me discover new tidbits of the play on my own.  I could have easily read someone else’s ideas on Hamlet and gone through countless essays of people with decades of experience on analyzing text to discover these tidbits.  But discovering it on my own is part of the art.  As students and enquirers of English, we deserve to use these tools to help give us a better foundation of analyzing texts rather than being overshadowed by others who have already been there and done so.

My Personal Experiences with Voyeur

I have very little experience with the other tools other than my own and only have the Phase 1 presentations to guide me on the benefits and struggles of the other four tools.  My journey with Voyeur was an amazing one.  Once I figured out the ease of using Voyeur, it became informative and visually appealing.  As I previously said, my tool did not magically reveal Hamlet to me so I tried to approach the text as if I was reading it for the first time.  The Word Cloud instantly revealed the words most used within Hamlet and this way I was able to pinpoint the common themes and look into the significance of the repetition of the words.  Voyeur revealed quotes and passages within the play by clicking on a single word that I wanted to find out more about.  Another benefit that my tool provided was what wasn’t revealed to me.  For example, if I was examining terms that occurred most frequently, I began to take note of things that were missing.  This is what helped me discover the ‘tidbits’ of the text that I was talking about earlier.  For instance, in Phase 1 when we examined 3.4, I read the scene several times and concluded that it was a significant character development scene for Gertrude and the relationship that she and Hamlet share.  After I put the text into Voyeur, the tool confirmed my analysis.  However, after sorting through the words most commonly used and the characters speaking, I realized how there was nearly no mention of Polonius.  And I thought this was odd because this is the scene where he dies.  However, after sorting through the text, I saw that Gertrude and Hamlet instantly go back to their private issues after Polonius is stabbed.  There is no further mention of his death until he is dragged off stage.  And now you might be thinking, “so what”?  Well, this was a revelation for a couple reasons: one, I hadn’t noticed this before because I was so consumed with the bigger things going on within the scene with Gertrude, Hamlet, and the Ghost (and this has happened every time I have read Hamlet).  And secondly, once I realized Gertrude’s lack of concern for a murder that occurred right in front of her, along with how what the Ghost says about Gertrude, “O, step between her and her fighting soul: conceit in weakest bodies strongest works” (3.4.110-110), this revealed more to me about her character than I had ever thought before.  If I was writing a paper on 3.4, this could be a strong argument that I could use to analyze Gertrude’s character, with my argument being that she [Gertrude] is too frail to acknowledge death, deceit, and murder.  Hamlet’s disregard for Polonius’s death also reveals his sanity at this point within the play and how he can kill without remorse compared to the previous acts.  Small tidbit + big discoveries = analytical power.  I was led to this discovery by Voyeur and I wouldn’t have noticed this or even thought it was important before.  Because, like I said, it’s so easy to get caught up in the bigger things going on within the play or to feel overwhelmed by the text as a whole.  Now I was curious to see what Voyeur would do for me when it came to a text I hadn’t read before.  In English 205, one of the plays we were focusing on was Othello, which I had never read or seen prior to the course.  Once I had read the play, I uploaded a word file of Othello into Voyeur and made minor notes like how Iago speaks far more than any of the other characters, how “handkerchief” was mentioned more than any other object within the play, and how the words “good” and “honest” were often used in correlation to “Iago”.


When we had our weekly tutorial and discussed the play, the minor points I had discovered through Voyeur were very significant to the play overall.  What Voyeur gave me was a foundation to work with and make bigger connections later on as I did in my tutorial.

In conclusion, the works of Da Vinci and Van Gogh were not tossed aside with the invention of acrylic cubism, poetry was not lost in modern free verse, and the essence of literature will not be forgotten in the Digital Humanities!


Works Cited

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

Martin Mueller,

To have or not to have cheesy blog titles ; that is the question

Part 3: Filling in the Gaps

Continuing on from my last blog post, Words, words, words: Finding a Clear Focus, I’m still keeping my focus on Hamlet, the theme of madness, and foreshadowing within the play.  So far, I haven’t delved that far into using the other tools to help me further analyze Act 1.  Voyeur has been very handy in helping me discover most of my inquiries.  However, because Voyeur doesn’t separate speakers, I’ve been attempting to use Wordhoard to do this.  I don’t know if it’s Java or if it’s me but I seem to be having difficulties playing around with Wordhoard.  I have been using Wordhoard to find lemmas though which has been really useful.  Because I am focusing on Hamlet’s potential madness and foreshadowing within the play I decided to search “madness” and found the following results on Wordhoard:

So I know I am not using Wordhoard to it’s full advantage but it did help me find some useful quotes (which is sad considering the number of times I have read Hamlet ) that I had completely overlooked otherwise.  I searched “madness” and found the following quote: (Horatio) “which might deprive your sovereignty of reason and draw you into madness?” (1.4).  This quote demonstrates foreshadowing seen later in the play of how Hamlet uses insanity to deceive others around him and how Hamlet’s drive to seek revenge begins to make him act more insane, confirming Gertrude’s belief that he is mad in 3.4.  Even though this is a question for Hamlet, this is actually a question for the audience; his insanity becomes questionable within the play as it progresses making the audience wonder whether he is acting or not.  This quote is strong evidence (specifically if your focusing on act 1) on how the idea of madness develops throughout Hamlet and why it is such an important theme within the play.  According to Wordhoard, “mad” is used 22 times (only as an adjective and never as a noun) and “madness” is also used 22 times.  “Madness” appears the most within Hamlet compared to any of the other plays.

Even though I used Wordhoard to find this, I’m not going to lie, I could have just as easily used Voyeur to find this also.  For me, this is the hardest part of Phase 2, because I feel like Voyeur is such an easy and brilliant tool to use that I don’t know  how to fill in the missing holes with other tools.  So far, I don’t really feel like I have any specific gaps that need filling.  I was worried because I thought my old stubborn and lazy ways were kicking in similar to how I felt when first learning that we would be using Digital Humanities tools to analyze text but I really think Voyeur is one of the best!  Seeing the Phase 1 group presentations I realized some of the difficulties that the other tools brought which I haven’t had with Voyeur.  However, I have been using the collaborative method of Phase 2 by helping my group members with Voyeur.  Haha, do I sound like a Voyeur snob?  Feel free to call me out on it.

Words, words, words: Finding a Clear Focus

PART 2: Continuing on with the Plan of Action at hand and specific character findings

Continuing on from my previous post (check it out here!),  we decided as a group to focus on character development and foreshadowing.  I began to experiment with Hamlet and Horatio’s characters.  I broadened my experiment by comparing the specific words Hamlet would say and compare that to the context of what other characters were saying.  I was beginning to get frustrated because this was not giving me any specific results.  Today, during our group meeting, we decided to each pick a character and to focus on that character with our tool specifically ; discussing the pros and cons of the tools as well and how we could collaborate on Friday to fill in the gaps.  I decided to focus on Hamlet, Richelle will focus on Horatio, Dayna  – the ghost, Kate – Claudius and Gertrude, and Amy will focus on Laertes and Ophelia.  Similar to what I did with Act 1, I created another document of only Hamlet’s speeches, cutting out all of the other characters so that it looks something like this :

This way I was able to focus on what Hamlet was saying specifically.  Once I uploaded this onto Voyeur, I focused on the Word Cloud tool which gave me these results:

I noticed that sensory terms such as “eye”, “seen”, and “hear” are important terms as well as “reason”.  This is significant to the play because Hamlet is confirming what his senses feel in comparison to what he is seeing which relates to  deception – a larger theme within the play.  This ties in with the argument of whether Hamlet has actually gone mad or not in 3.4 when he can see the ghost yet Gertrude cannot.  Much of the first act gives us an insight into Hamlet’s reasoning and intellect.  In 1.2, Hamlet also foreshadows his father’s murder by Claudius when he says, “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.”  I found this quote when I searched the context that ‘eyes’ was being used in.  This line signifies a basis for the play because it also reflects Polonius’s actions when he creates lies to spy on Laertes and attempts to hide behind the curtains in 3.4.  I’m beginning to feel confident in this moment of Phase 2 because now my focus has become more clear and I am able to use Voyeur to my advantage.  In terms of the disadvantages I was going to say that the user cannot add words to the “Stop List”.  The ‘Stop List’ is a default list that takes away punctuation, conjunctions, numbers, etc., from the text that you upload so that you can have clearer results.  And like I was saying, I cannot add a word or remove a word from the ‘Stop List’.  But I was really shocked to find out that none of the other tools had anything similar to this so now I don’t see this as a disadvantage anymore.  I gotta say Voyeur has been pretty good to me – I just can’t look up lemmas.

New Beginnings and the Formation of POA

If you’ve been keeping up with Phase II Act I’s recent blog posts you will notice we have come across a new phenomenon called POA.  Thanks to my fellow group  member Richelle (check out her awesome blog post here!) we successfully came up with a focus for our group.  We will continue to discuss POA further on as we proceed with Phase II.  Now you might be asking yourself, what does POA mean?  POA is our plan of action.  POA is what will lead us to success within our second phase.

PLAN OF ACTION PART 1: The Obstacles

I used the xml file of Act 1 (click here to view!) and inserted it into Voyeur, my most valued tool.  Encoding words such as “xml”, “aker”, and “sp” were most used.  I went back into the xml file and, similar to what Katy did in the previous phase, removed all of the encoding so I could get clearer results.

However, I did not separate the speaker from when they are being the character is being spoken about. I discovered that Hamlet and Horatio speak the most throughout Act 1.  That seems obvious for Hamlet because he is the main character and also because he possesses the personality of an intellectual, constantly talking through each situation and calculating the outcomes, and also for Horatio because their [Hamlet and Horatio] relationship is established at the beginning. As a group we decided that the first act is where the characters are introduced and any foreshadowing for the play is revealed.  This seems easy, almost too easy.  And so we thought: what can we do with this exactly?  We decided the best thing to do would be to focus on character development in comparison to the rest of play.  Now that we have our plan of action in motion we can individually focus on our own tool and find our results from that.  In the next meeting we can then combine our findings and fill in the pieces with other tools that will narrow our findings.  For instance, Voyeur doesn’t allow me to separate the speaker from when they are actually speaking to when they are spoken about.  However, I can go to Dayna (the Wordhoard expert in my group) to do this.

What I decided to do with Voyeur was focus on one character, such as Hamlet for example, and focus on the specific words that they use and then compare the concept that the words are used in.  I think this will be a good way to show the character development when compared with the rest of the play.  So far, I focused on Hamlet and some themes that he is associated with such as “heaven” and “father”.  He uses the word ‘heaven’ often in vain compared the other characters such as Claudius and speaks of his father  the most within the first act.  Right now I’m trying to figure if I can compare more than three words at the same time from the Word Corpus tool.  The word corpus tool gives you all the words starting from most frequent to least.  I’ve noticed that if I flip to the next “page” of words that it gives me it erases the previous words I had highlighted on the frequency chart.  This is a little annoying but hopefully I can work it out with my group.

Putting aside preconceived notions and discovering something useful

As my initial process with Voyeur comes to a close (or rather a new beginning) I can now securely say that I have entered into the world of digital humanities and embraced a new way of analyzing text.  Referring back to Katy’s first blog post of the traditional “cookie-cutter” method of analyzing text (go to Katy’s blog post here:\”Momentary Panic and Gradual Acceptance\”), I felt a little uneasy venturing into this unknown world of digital humanities.  I had no faith in my computer skills or how any of these tools would help me analyze text.  Now looking back, I have realized that suffering the long and tedious process of going through a text with only a pen or pencil in hand, is not the only option!  I find it ridiculous that I actually thought that the traditional method was easier. It was only easier, in my mind, because it was all that I knew.  I tested the water of digital humanities first with Wordhoard and was intrigued that I now possessed a single program on my computer that would instantly take me to any Skakespearean play I needed.

Don’t need to carry you around anymore! Ha Ha! :

But, I never took the time to make new discoveries about WordHoard and found it visually unappealing.  I gave up just as easily with the other tools; I assumed they would be just as uninteresting – and of lesser use.  Surprisingly, I ended up with Voyeur as my tool, which I knew least about.  Like I said in my previous blog post (check out my first blog post here!: “Initial Responses to Voyeur“), I thought it was only a bubbleline chart.  Yet now I was forced to look at this tool, figure out its purpose, and find a way to use Voyeur to help me discover new things about Hamlet.  And it wasn’t easy – until I let it be that is.  Once you find the right browser (avoid using Chrome and Safari – for Mac users) and get over the glitches of Java (as Nicole, my fellow group member will tell you, “it’s not your fault, it’s Java’s”) Voyeur has become one of the most useful online tools I have ever come across.

One of the major discoveries that I came across with Voyeur was that I realized it will take me to direct themes within the play.  My favourite tools became the Word Cloud, Word Trends frequency chart, and the Words in the Entire Corpus tool:

I began to correlate these three tools into finding different themes within Hamlet and how the terms were related according to how many times they occurred together or apart and so on.  When I was fiddling around with the program, I was inspired by Katy’s idea of taking a modified version of 3.4 and uploading it onto Voyeur.  I decided to go onto Sparknotes and then proceeded to create a copied and pasted document of 3.4 in the modern text version (check out No Fear Shakespeare for Hamlet).  I then compared the major terms in both versions, and also uploaded both at the same time and compared the two.  I am still looking deeper into this but what I have concluded so far is that the concept of “good” versus “evil” is a more evident theme in the modern text including the words “virtue”, “heaven”, and “devil”.

When you notice the repetition among certain terms and how they interlace you can then start asking deeper questions like I did by comparing the original and modern texts.  TAPoR is another tool that is similar to Voyeur where there is a word count (and other things I don’t know about yet until the group presentations!) but without the visual components.  For me, as a visual learner, the visual components are what make Voyeur special and interesting to play around with.  However, there are definitely some tools on Voyeur that are unnecessary.  If you didn’t see my previous post called “Are these necessary?” (check it out here!: “Are these necessary?“), I will explain – some of the tools are quite repetitive and appear almost “complicated” because Voyeur already has other tools that do the same thing in a more clear manner. For example, these tools (Word Fountain, Lava, and Knots):

all seem hard to read and understand.  Some of the comments I received on my previous post about these tools said they are visually appealing (maybe) but agreed that they are hard to understand.  So why have them?  Perhaps I should keep an open mind but so far I don’t see their significance!  As a group, we Voyeurans (can that be a word now?) found little use for not only the above tools I just mentioned but also some other visually confusing and also repetitive tools on Voyeur.  There is always room for improvement when it comes to technology.

Are these necessary?


I think my fellow Voyeur group members will agree, but the Knot tool, Lava tool, and Word Fountain tool (above) seem quite useless compared to the other tools on Voyeur.  I guess it provides an alternate visual representation of the text but to me it seems unclear and visually “messy”.  What do you guys think?

Voyeur: My initial thoughts and responses in Phase 1

Before I began working on this project I did not look at Voyeur at all except in the work shop when it was briefly explained.  All I remembered from the workshop on Voyeur was that there was some sort of bubble chart and tree chart involved.  When I began to fiddle around with Voyeur (or Voyant) I quickly realized there was far more to Voyeur than a bubble chart.  My group and I discovered it was actually a median with sixteen tools that allows you to customize your own page to how you would like to analyze the text.  These sixteen tools are all very similar; they differ mainly by frequency and visual elements.  You just choose your own tools and create your own page.  So if you are someone who likes to compare words, characters, and themes with more of a visual component then you can customize the page to fit with your choice of visual tools.  If you prefer frequency charts and specific numbers, than you can analyze the text with the frequency tools.

Once my group and I began to explore Voyeur and all the tools on our own, we all found it to be very user friendly.  Words are easy to find and compare within a large text by clicking onto it in the text or chart.  Voyeur highlights each time the word appears within the text.  If you clicked on “love”, for example, in the word cloud or any other tool you choose to use, it instantly highlights the word ‘love’ each time it appears.  You can upload your own pdf files into Voyeur to analyze it or you can copy and paste the links.  Voyeur also allows you to take away any words you do not need.  For example, if you upload 3.4 of Hamlet, words such as “and”, “it”, “I”, and so on appear as most frequent.  However, you can take those words out of the text by using an option to do so.  This then allows you to see the important themes more clearly in the visual and frequency tools.

One of the major downfalls I found with Voyeur is that the program does not give you any clear directions to follow.  You have to play around with it and not get frustrated when you cannot figure something out easily.  Another disadvantage is that the frequency of a particular word might not be accurate.  For example, my group and I compared the words “good” and “evil”.  ‘Good’ appeared more frequently than ‘evil’ on the word cloud tool.  But when we looked at the actual pdf text we realized that Voyeur was picking up on ‘good’ in words like “good night”.  As you can see, this can be a problem because if we had not realized this we would have come to the conclusion that ‘good’ as a theme is spoken more often than ‘evil’.

My main goal now is to come up with a clear hypothesis to focus on in 3.4, similar to how we focused on the Oedipus complex in our Wednesday lecture, so that I can find out more glorious things about all that is Hamlet with the help of Voyeur. Here is a link to all the various Voyeur Tools that I mentioned.  You can see an individual image of each tool if you scroll down.  Check it out!