This is Not About Conformity

They say the definition of insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results.  If this is true, can literary scholars/analysts be classified as insane? Surly not! However, resisting the Digital Humanities efforts to analyze old texts in new ways is most certainly, insane.  The Digital Humanities encompasses a truly revolutionary method of textual analysis by, to put it simply, using computers to study books.  This is an initially intimidating but ultimately fascinating idea.

As a self-professed book-lover, I was, admittedly, skeptical of using a computer to analyze a text.  However, knowing our class would be studying such a historic text (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) I was interested to see how two seemingly opposite worlds could be fused together. Are books and computers even remotely compatible?

The Beginning: A Little Background

As it turns out, books and computers are most certainly compatible! Throughout the past four months, the Digital Humanities has proven itself by providing an array of highly enriching insight as a reward to having an open mind.  As a preliminary example supporting my theory, I would like to draw on a comment made by a classmate of mine, Ruby. In the closing discussions of the English 203 seminar, Ruby mentioned she had previously studied Hamlet four times, in an academic setting. However, it was not until her most recent analysis of the text, integrated with the Digital Humanities, that she discovered new elements. This is because Digital Humanities tools search text in a different way. They conduct searches too time consuming and, frankly, too boring, to do by hand.  Thus, revealing new insights traditional analysis simply cannot, sanely, begin to explore.

That being said, there is a balance to strike.  Digital Humanities tools are useless without a thorough understanding of the text you wish to analyze. To quote Dr. Michael Ullyot, it is about “taking a stupid computer, and telling it to do smart things”.  If you haven’t read the text, you simply won’t have anything smart to tell it to do, ultimately rendering the analysis tool useless and you, well…lazy.

This, I now understand, is precisely why the first portion of the term was dedicated to studying Hamlet “un-plugged” No computers allowed.  After being presented with a steady Hamlet platform, Digital Humanities became less intimidating and increasingly intriguing.

The Middle: Phase One

For Phase One of the Digital Humanities aspect of this class, we were divided into groups of five and designated the “experts” or rather “soon-to-be” experts of one of five tools:

  1. Wordseer
  2. Wordhoard
  3. Ta POR
  4. Monk
  5. Voyeur

As a member of the Wordseer group, I was excited, but perhaps a little nervous, still. What kind of things would we be able to find? Would any of it mean anything?

After a couple hours of acquainting myself with this new-to-me tool I discovered a number of helpful searches available to me via, Wordseer. With fuctions such as “Read and Annotate”, “Heat Maps”, “Word Frequencies”, and “Word Trees” the
results you pull are truly, endless.

This portion of the term enabled me to become comfortable with my tool, and ready to sink my teeth into Hamlet – the text we had already studied “un-plugged”. For more on Phase One, you can read about it from my point of view on my blog

The Middle: Phase Two

After scrambling the students in our class perfectly, five new groups were created -holding an “expert” from each tool and assigned a specific act to focus analysis on.  I was assigned a member of the “Act One” group. In my first Phase Two blog, I wrote about how I was concerned and possibly a little bit jealous of other students with seemingly  juicer acts to tackle. Ultimately, I decided to view my act as a challenge – a “Literary Where’s Waldo” if you will.

We, as a group, decided to focus on character development as a central theme of Act One analysis. In a previous post of mine, I discussed the division of characters and exactly how we set out our “Plan of Attack” (P.O.A). I worked on the
character, Horatio. An interesting aspect I chose to focus on is his friendship with Hamlet. This is where the Digital Humanities really came into play for me. For example, examine this quote:

Horatio:

          Hail to your lordship. I am glad to see you well

Hamlet:

          Horatio, or do I forget myself.

Horatio:

          The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.

Hamlet:

          Sir, my good friend, I’ll change that name with you.

This excerpt strikes me a highly interesting. It seems that for someone who is portrayed throughout the play to be Hamlet’s only trusted friend, they have not known each other for long. Hamlet actually checks to make sure he has remembered Horatio’s name. Intrigued by this idea, I decided to dip into the tool, Voyeur, with the help of my group’s Voyeur expert, Ruby.

After conducting a few simple searches, we uncovered something I found significant. Throughout the plays entirety, Hamlet only uses the word “friend” fifteen times. Eleven times, the word is used in a sarcastic, facetious tone while speaking to or of the characters Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius. The remaining four times (all occurring in Act One) it is used while speaking to or of Horatio, all in a genuine tone.

Voyeur Charts

 

 

Why is this important or significant? Because for someone so unfamiliar to Hamlet (having to check his name), Horatio is proving himself, subtly, to be an important element of the play, all before act two begins.

If it is true that everything a writer writes is intentional, is it possible that Shakespeare was, subtly, very subtly, setting Horatio up as the character to “win” in the end? Despite his lack-of-presence throughout the middle of the play (as displayed/compared with Hamlet in the above graph) Horatio ultimately come out on top, fooling, I assume, most readers/viewers.

 

The End New Beginning: The Digital and the Humanities

As I have come to find, The Digital and The Humanities can more than co-exist in our world. Together they can thrive.  In the true interest of knowledge, in the true interest of academia, is there anything wrong with expanding the traditional methods we have so comfortably subscribed to? I would have to answer: no. In the interest of learning more, how can utilizing every resource available be wrong?

With an entire community of Digital Humanists out there, The Digital Humanities is an exciting and fresh element of out over-technologically-dependent society.  You know what they say, “If you can’t beat em’, join them!” however, this is not about conformity – rather it is about a sort of unity.  In a previous post of mine, I wrote about how shocked I was to learn the creator of Wordseer, Adidti Muralidharan, was actually reading our blogs!

Holy Crap Squared

I understand that when I click “publish” I am putting my work out there for anyone to view; however, the impact was lost on me. This is, until messages from Berkley, California started surfacing in response to blogs posted on the
topic of Wordseer. Unity.

The World of Digital Humanities is so much larger than it may first appear. Initially, I was under the impression that Digital Humanities covered only the study of literary works for purposes similar to mine – expanding a text, digging deeper into a story, etc. Upon further research, however, I have discovered that Digital Humanities encompasses a much larger scope of research and analysis. It reaches into other fields of the humanities such as Psychology, Sociology, and even History.

Skeptics of the Digital Humanities offer that online sources cannot be trusted. As Anita Guerrini, the author of the article,“Analyzing Culture with Google Books: is it a Social Science? writes “I was immediately struck by what seems to me to be a fundamental flaw in its methodology: its reliance on Google Books for its sample.” I have to admit, I disagree with this statement entirely. I do not understand how using a tool as universal as Google, can be described as a “fundamental flaw”. The word has become a verb due its popularity! (Example: “What is Google? Oh I’ll just Google it!”)

While, admittedly, the Digital Humanities is still in its up-and-coming phase, it is through using tools such as Google Books, (capable of housing a limitless amount of analysis material) that Digital Humanists will be able to continue forward. Expanding, and ultimately uniting academics and scholars with common interests and goals across the globe.

Anita continues “The authors equate size with representativeness and quantity of data with rigor. I am not sure that is true… But some of the results are simply banal”. I have to agree with her…partially. Some of the results I personally came across were boring, pointless, or even misleading all together. This is where the quantitative, scientific values of the Digital meet the qualitative, intuitive values of the Humanities.

Part of using the tools provided by the Digital Humanities is determining what is important, what is new, what is exciting! Users sift through results much the same way texts are analyzed with red pen, stick-notes, and highlighters. This is why I strongly believe the future of Digital Humanities involves a balance both. Books and computers, together.

Further into her article, Anita comments “Perhaps most disturbing to me is the underlying assumptions of such work about the humanities and about what scholars in the humanities do. One assumption is that the humanities need to be more like science and that we need to be more like scientists — that quantitative knowledge is the only legitimate knowledge and that humanities scholars are therefore not “rigorous.” I understand her point of view in terms of the pressures
surrounding the “legitimacy” of the humanities; however, I do not feel as though this is the time to be territorial.

We live in a world where our cars talk to us and where people can carry 2000+ songs around in the pocket of their jeans. We live in a technical world. Is it possible the whispers…or screams, calling the humanities pretentious is related to the social science’s unwillingness to change? For the sake of academia, or research, or simply for the sake of curiosity, why not give the Digital Humanities a try?

The trick to hacking the Digital Humanities lies in the approach. As I mentioned earlier, without a thorough understanding of the material you are analyzing, the digital can offer you nothing. Is it possible that books are not better than computers and that computer are similarly no better than books in regards to yielding the most insightful results? I think so. Perhaps, the ultimate method lies in a combination of the two, a mixture of the traditional and the modern.

When the Humanities can learn to play nice, the resources available to them will be, virtually, inconceivable.

 

Google Doc. God Send

Margaret Meade Said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Obviously she was referring to Digital Humanities! The Second Phase of this project has brought together five “experts” with a common goal: Act one Hamlet…and world domination.

 

 

 

 

 

But seriously, through my research of Act 1 Hamlet, I have come across some interesting results.  As mentioned in a previous post of mine, we (my group) decided to focus on
character development and foreshadow in Act 1.  From there we divided up the characters we viewed to be the most significant.  Through my own research of Horatio’s role in Hamlet (exclusively using Wordseer), I came up with some interesting results.  However my findings were only compounded and made even more insightful by incorporating other Digital Humanities tools in the search process. Using Wordseer, I had previously discovered that one of the words commonly used/associated with Horatio is “overlooked”. This is fascinating to me because of how quite literally, Horatio is absent throughout the middle of the play (with the exception of a few line)

Taking the discovery further, I discussed my findings and plans for future investigation with my phase two teammates (Ruby, Kate, Dayna and Amy).  We call this part of phase two “filling in the holes” When we had reached the limit of our own tools capabilities, but still had questions, we referred to each others tools in search of answers.

To accommodate this element of our research, we (or Dayna) decided to create a Google Doc. where each of us would list our tools, and their available functions.  THIS WAS AWESOME! When I hit a road block with Wordseer all I had to do was pull up the Google Doc. and scan through the other tools capabilities. From there I contacted the “expert” according to what specific search I needed.

This is where the Screen shot should
be…but I had some technical difficulties logging on…

Despite our regular and productive lab/group meetings, having the Google Doc. available 24 hours a day made any independent research easy!Up until this point in our Act 1 Hamlet project, most of the research had been onour own. Individual searches on individual characters. Easy. Moving forward to the collaborative stage of phase 2, I found the searches not only easier but much more effective! Let the filling in begin!

Intrigued by my results of Horatio and the word “overlooked” I decided I had to pursue this idea further. After checking the Google Doc. I knew Monk was something I would NEVER need…sorry Kate! I did, however, notice that the tool Voyeur had some interesting searches to offer me.  After picking Ruby’s brain and forcing her (to the point of slave labor) to conduct searches for me I/we came away with some interesting visuals which reinforce my theory of Horatio’s “overlook-ed-ness” (neologism?) Anyway…check it out!

 

After taking a look at the shot to the left, you might understand where I am coming from. You can see that Horatio’s largest part in Act 1, then declines rapidly only to return slightly at the end. Does this look like the chart of the “last man standing”? Maybe not. Does this look like the chart of a perhaps “overlooked” character? Maybe.  With this visual, I am trying to prove that as one of, arguably, the most important character in the entire play, his actual presence is minimal.

After gathering this new information, I decided to try to look even further into this idea – look for something even more concrete. Enter TaPor….JUST KIDDING! (I could not find any use for TaPor…relevant to my search…or otherwise. Sorry Amy!) Enter WordHoard! After once again referring to the Google Doc. I knew Dayna was the one to contact next! She explained to me exactly what Wordhoard could do for me and this is the result….

This is also were the screen shot should be…but due to some techincal difficulties it is not…I will be sure to have it by Friday for the presentation!

Everyone knows that charts/graphs can sometimes be misleading in the way information is presented. Between scale(s) and the data itself, it can be difficult to determine the meaning. This is where WordHoard really came through for me! In the above shot, you can see exactly how many words Horatio uses in exactly which scenes/acts!  This is significant to my research because it is concrete and cannot be skewed by scale.

Using Wordseer, WordHoard, and Voyeur, my theory of Horatio’s absence throughout the play is verified how intentional was this choice on Shakespeare’s part? Was he trying to trick his readers/viewers? Think of the first time you read Hamlet. Were you tricked?

On Friday, March, 30, 2012, we, as the Phase 2 Act 1 group will present out individual and collective findings. As mentioned by Dayna in a previous group meeting, the difference between phase one and two is the collaborative effort. In phase one, the class attempted to analyze 3.4 Hamlet, however, could only take their research as far as their tools permitted.  In phase two, we have an expert from each tool to lean on, to cooperate with and to explore Hamlet with. With five extensive Digital Humanities tools at our fingertips, all the searches and all the answers are available to any willing person…or team!

Welcome to our POA/ An Initial Discovery!

My Phase 2 group and I have devised a POA (pronounced poh-ah), this is our Plan of Attack! If you read my most recent post, you know that I had a few concerns about what exactly to analyze in Act One of Hamlet.  After a couple productive group meetings I am feeling good. Ladies and Gentlemen – our POA has been determined.  Ready? Character Development! We decided to tackle this aspect of the play because as Act One analysts, we get to delve into who the characters are presented as in the beginning. Taking this piece of knowledge, we can then compare it to the characters throughout/at the end of the play.  We want to know if the personalities portrayed in the first act of hamlet are a truthful reflection of the characters throughout the play. If not, does something significant happen to change them? What was Shakespeare trying to prove by withholding particular traits of particular characters while exposing others completely? This is exactly what we hope to discover. This is step one of our POA.

To subdivide the extensive research involved in character development, we decided to pick the five characters, or in some cases pairs of characters, we felt serve the most significant roles in the play.  After individually selecting characters to examine in our own expert tools, we are now ready to roll up our sleeves and uncover the dirt (look out Waldo, I am on to you!)

I will be analyzing Horatio, Kate will be analyzing the King and Queen, Ruby has Hamlet (Glare), Amy is looking after Ophellia and Laertes and finally Dayna has The Ghost! With our assigned characters, we are each planning to discover as much as possible under the umbrella of character development in specific regards to Act One.

Although I am still in the preliminary stages of my Horatio-development-act one research, I have already uncovered something pretty cool! So if you just go into your basic search on Wordseer, and type in “horatio” all by itself, when the search results are found, a box will appear at the top of the page with the most commonly used words while referring to your searched word (in my case “Horatio”)

 

Neat - O

 

This is really cool because I view Horatio as the level-headed and perhaps the only sane characters in the entire play. This makes it interesting to see the results. If you look at the screen shot, you will see the results reflect my interpretations of Horatio pretty well.  With words such as “good”, “Heaven”, “see” and “Lord” listed it is hard to not think about the end of the play. How does it all turn out? Well, in a nut shell, he is alive and pretty much everyone else…is not.  Is this coincidence? Or is this something a little amazing that has been delivered through digital humanities. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Another interesting point I found was in the word “overlooked” provided by the list in the above screen shot.  I think this is a little crazy and pretty darn cool…Horatio and overlooked. Are you seeing the connection?! The fact that Horatio is really only in the first and final Acts of the play AND is what we can call “the last guy standing” is a fair observation. Keeping this in mind, the fact that “overlooked” is so common while searching his name is knock-your-socks-off incredible/interesting/awesome! This is shocking because in the play Horatio really is overlooked. WOW.

This is only a peek into the information I know wordseer is holding and I can’t wait to run Horatio/act one through the rest of the functions available with this tool. This is a pretty incredible/exciting way of analyzing. Still not convinced? Think of the first time you read Hamlet, did you know Horatio would be “the last guy standing”? Probably not…but Wordseer did.

Oy, we kan/ddo rreap moorre oov WS trru DH!

“Oy, we kan/ddo rreap moorre oov WS trru DH!” Do you get it? If you did you can officially call yourself a “Scrabble Freak”…smarty pants. If you did not get it, you can call yourself, umm, normal? 

A little bit of an explanation:

cool

 But why would I spend the time (I won’t tell you how much…) putting these letters together? To show how all five tools can cohesively come together…the same way our new groups are coming together for Phase 2 of our projects.  The fact that some groups faced difficulty in the previous phase is actually particularly convenient for me here. Their difficulties are represented by my interesting and “difficult” spelling choices. Obviously I did this on purpose…

In all honesty, I think that it is at this point that some truly interesting and useful discoveries are going to be made within Hamlet.  In Phase one, everyone was trying to figure out their tool and become the “expert” of it. In Phase two, however, it seems we as teams will be dealing a lot more with the text itself (specifically our designated Acts). 

 As a member of the “Act 1” group I am feeling interested but sceptical.  What could our group possibly uncover that could compare to the “Act 3” or “Act 4” group.  We do have a ghost cameo, which is pretty cool, but lets be honest – we all want to rip apart Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” speech.  To dissect that speech with even one tool, Wordseer for example, could prove to be tremendously insightful. I am certainly interested to see what that group comes up with!

 That being said, maybe Act 1 will come out as the Underdog in this project. I am, admittedly, apprehensive of the results we may find in this act; however, perhaps my own lack of interest will spark a higher level of interest for myself: a challenge.  Will being assigned a comparatively less interesting act push me to search for the unobvious?   A Shakespearean “Where’s Waldo”. COOL.

cool-er

Coming out on the other side of this blog post I am feeling a little more excited about Act 1. What can we, bringing all five tools together as a team, really discover about this act? How much more “kan” we “rreap oov WS truu DH”? Is Waldo hiding in the pages of Hamlet’s Act 1? It’s all about his trademark stripped shirt: obnoxious and begging to be noticed, but also ridiculously easy to overlook.  You can’t see it…until you do.

A Better Understanding

Alright – second blog post here we go.

Since my previous post, I have gotten to know Wordseer a little better and think I may be able to provide a little more insight into this tool.  The group meetings I have been participating in with the other Wordseer “experts” have really helped all of us, I think, develop a deeper knowledge of exactly what it is this tool has to offer.

Diving right in, I want to show you guys some new features I have discovered.

If you have tried your hand at Wordseer, you already know the basic functions it offers for thorough text analysis. These sub-tools include: searching comparisons through “described as” or “any relation to”, “done by” etc. functions.  Other searches offered are Heat maps and Word Trees – which provide a visual element to analysis…blah blah blah…all of this has been covered in detail in my last post – which I know you all read…anyway…

What I have not shared with you is the nifty way you can compare different words within Heat maps! Intriguing, right? Prepare yourself.

Pretty cool, right?! In this particular screen shot, I am comparing FIVE words used within Hamlet with each other. In the column to the left of the map, you can see the words I chose to compare (war, kill, die, death, and revenge). Moving to the right to actual Heat map, the distinction between words is marked by the color. Something interesting I noticed on this map is the difference between the usage of the words “Kill” and “death” – with the first column representing “death” and the final column representing “kill”. Why is there such a difference in the amount of times each word is used? Does it mean anything?

This is the kind of information DH tools are excellent at providing.

Something else to note about the Heat Maps is that when a user has their curser on a colored tab, as I do in the image below, the specific instance in which that word is used will appear to the right of the tab, providing users with the entire line.

This kind of information can be helpful for users while trying to determine the mood, or tone in which a specific word has been used.

Another cool feature of Wordseer is the “Read and Annotate” function available.  I have found that this aspect of Wordseer is reminiscent of traditional analysis methods in that you are able to read the text and “highlight” among other cool tricks.  See for yourself….

Using an example from Act 3, Scene 4 of Hamlet, you can see how handy this tool really is.  By highlighting and clicking on any word, a box will appear with a list of options. By clicking the “Newspaper-strip Visualization” option another box will appear to the right with the highlighted word. And when you click “Go”…..

You are brought to a new screen featuring a Heat Map including every instance of the word, in my case “offended” used in the entire Shakespeare corpus. This of course can be manipulated to feature one play exclusively of anything else you want – including Word Trees.  Is this particular information useful or insightful, maybe, maybe not…is it cool…umm yeah!

One last tool offered under the “Read and Annotate tab is the “Related words” option located in the same menu displayed when you click on a highlighted word.  Selecting “Related Words” pops up another box, providing users with “Nearby Adjective’, Nearby Nouns”, “Nearby Verbs”, as well as words used in a similar context.

This can be helpful for users attempting to strengthen a hypothesis they may have or further develop initial ideas.

With these new discoveries in Wordseer, I am feeling more are more comfortable “experimenting” with my own theories.  Overall, I would call Wordseer incredibly user friendly…once it decides to accept your friend request!

Insatiable

If it is true that we can never learn it “all”, then it is implied that is something else to learn. For this reason, I believe we as humans, are naturally insatiable.  Hungry for knowledge, for the things we do not yet know. While reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this feeling is no stranger to me.  They say that writers are “game players” and while reading Hamlet I feel as though Shakespeare was no exception. Every word used is a word meant to be used. Every reference, theme, character, etc. has a meaning.  So how does a person even being to comprehend the most remote nuances delivered to readers via Shakespeare himself…? Wordseer of course! http://wordseer.berkeley.edu/shakespeare/index.php

Okay, maybe that was a bit of an over-sell…but you get the point. Wordseer is a Digital Humanities tool designed to provide users with a deeper understanding of a text – in my case Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Now I know what you’re thinking: how can a computer give me deeper insights than my own text and highlighter…? Well the main difference is your sanity; personally I would like to retain mine…for now. What do I mean? Well, the amount of time an individual would have to spend scanning a text in comparison to a computer is incredibly different – granted that the tool is working correctly…

By searching a single word in relation to a single character, hypothesis can be drawn. The fact that Wordseer exists to deliver these results to you makes the range of individual theories broaden. While experimenting on my own, it is interesting to note the evidence or even lack of evidence provided by the usage of words in a text so widely examined.  Interesting opinions of theme, character, and plot will creep into your mind, and then you will know…Wordseer has officially opened your eyes to any text you may be experimenting with.

Within Wordseer, lie a couple niftly tools to help users a little more visually. Perhaps I am interested to know how many times the word “death” is used in Hamlet in relation to the rest of the Shakespeare corpus…

Cool

With the first column representing Hamlet and each following column representing additional Shakespeare works, users can visually recognize the difference from play to play in regards to a single word usage.

But perhaps you are interested in looking a little more closely at one text particularly; easy enough.  This would be a great time to create a Word Tree. Word Trees are great for finding every instance of a single word in a text followed or preceded by the line(s) the word is used in.

Cool

This visual element can be helpful in determining the context in which a specific word may be used.

Overall, Wordseer is a great tool for users looking to dig a little deeper, while embracing a new method of analysis.  This tool can help you discover layers to text which may be easy to pass over, thus assisting in the formation of provocative
thesis and conclusions or even just some interesting thoughts! I hope you are ready to feel satiated, if only for a short while.