Reading with the Stars…and Scholarly Peers

There are fewer tools that actually build an archive of live interpretation—as opposed to facts layered and ready for interpretation–around a stable text.“  – Augusta Rohrbach and David Tagnani

That’s where an amalgamation of Highbrow and Voyeur would come in.  The argument against the incorporation of humanities in English literature courses is solid, mainly, that it distances the reader from the text and removes the qualitative perspective only possible through human interpretation.  To replace it are mathematical calculations such as those presented in digital tools like Voyeur.  The creator of Highbrow, Reinhard Engles, describes his developing program as an “experimental genome browser for literary texts.”  Now, friends, genomes are inheritable traits of an organism.  Disbelieving as I was, I turned to the video screen casts and the electronic organism known as Highbrow.

Engles has put forth a set of 5 different tutorial videos, within each are demonstrations of the texts that have been uploaded into the program for use.  As Highbrow is still in its developmental stages, there are yet only 4 literary texts and 1 video to choose from:

Dante’s Divine Comedies

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Multiple Works)

Shakespeare’s First Folio (no references yet)

The Bible (King James Version)

——

Here are the strength and weaknesses, problems I found while working with Highbrow, as well as a basic “how-to.”  To start with I will mention that I will not be working with the Shakespeare set as it is incomplete and does not show, to the full extent, the capabilities of Highbrow.

“An Interactive Deep Zoom Widget:”

Rohrbach and Tagnani admit in their post “Reading with the Stars: Teaching with the HIGHBROW Annotation Browser,” that although there are plenty of tools available to ‘aggregate and organize existing information for users to interpret,’ these tools more or less become a step between students and the text and distance them from the literature itself.  Students begin to analyze the calculations formed by tools rather than “build an archive of live interpretation” from the text itself.  From this predicament and the partnering of Associate Professor, Augusta Rohrbach; PhD student, David Tagnani and Engles himself: ‘Reading with the Stars’ was born.  In their Washington State University classroom environment, Highbrow became a way for students to build upon both their own thoughts and conceptions about a studied work as well as the ideas and commentary of their peers.  ‘Reading with the Stars’ allows for a class to break beyond the barriers of a physical classroom and allow a ‘relaxed academic’ (oxymoronic in the eyes of many scholars, no doubt) atmosphere housed in a vast digital realm.

 

Putting it Together:

Aside from providing a digital meeting ground under the pretext of a .. well, a text, Reading with the Stars/Highbrow also allows an exceedingly more organized method for students to collaboratively annotate, highlight and organize ourselves beside the literature.  On an average day a student carries around their own weight in books – the conditions of which are dangerously suggestive of a younger sibling having had at them with a box of stationary.

Only somewhat inconvenient for budgeting students, we cry out for an answer, and Highbrow provides:

Highbrow: a clean and tidy alternative – and more. Click here for Engles screencast on “Interactive Editing.”

The ability to add/subtract “tracks” and edit the names of groups (which, by default, are sorted in chronological order – for the OCD perfectionist in us all) provides a unique experience catering to each individual’s preference.  Highbrow has a clean-cut interface with relatively easy navigation.  Zoom in with the mouse wheel, tapping the arrow key, or simply clicking.  Zooming in on specific segments allows you to view segments from books, to cantos, to verses and line numbers (in the case of Dante’s Divine Comedies):

Once you have registered, you can add your own annotations right next to the elite.  There are over 288,000 “tracks” of commentary, broken apart by centuries by default. It is interesting to see what 7 centuries of annotation looks like alongside each other, which were more interested and which were less interested: 1600 (Clearly everyone was wrapped up in Hamlet.)

 

Shortcomings:

Now come the annotations! At first, I had attempted to deselect all commentators aside from the track labelled “English” (seemed like a safe bet) and although it did produce English annotations, this greatly decreased the amount of notes in the right hand column.

My focus aimed at Canto V of Inferno (one of my favourite cantos from my favourite comedy) I decided to play with the “search text” button. As previously mentioned, Engles has designed a very clean interface and so it is quite simply point and click on the blue link in the upper left corner and a window will appear like the one pictured below:

What shall we look for in Canto V?  “Love” of course, although when searching, I would point out that your searches are limited to text only (or so I was unable to disprove) and not to the commentary.  Once you have typed in whatever desired lines or key word(s) preferred, simply click “search.”  Whatever keyword was searched will create a new “track” next to whichever others you had previously selected to the right.

Imagine my surprise when my search for “love” in the second circle of “The Lustful” produced 0 results. 

Then it hit me.  Oh yes, that’s right, it’s Italian.

Unfortunately, my Italian isn’t that strong otherwise I would have added in my own commentary next to  Alighieri’s own blood – Pietro!  I would imagine that in the near future Engles will be hosting further collaborations with other teachers, classrooms and of course, doing his own weekly adjustments to his program.  That being said, I was disappointed that I could not work further with Dante as I absolutely adore the Divine Comedies.  I would expect more works of Shakespeare will be added at the very least, along with more literature and perhaps a translated version of the Comedies – as the original is difficult to navigate even with a translator.

As this was the only real let down of the program for me, any other “weaknesses” I could possibly comment on an intelligent browser such as this – still so young in development, are few:

  1.  I had noticed that while searching through the text and annotations, I had only the option of scrolling with my mouse/track pad.  This became awkward and occasionally inconvenient when wanting to scroll with speed and precision.  This however, turned out to be strength on the programmer’s behalf as I later found out he added a side-scroll bar into the Emerson text.
  2. Also, searching with the “search text” tool does not search through the annotations: the most unique and intriguing part about Highbrow.

 

“Immersing into Emerson”

Although I am admittedly, and quite ashamed, not familiar with much of Emerson’s work, I had a lot more fun experimenting with Highbrow at this point.  I also had a lot more opportunity to see exactly why Rohrbach and Tagnani were suggesting that fun in a classroom could be facilitated with Highbrow.  So too, could I juxtapose the use of  Voyeur with it, discovering that the tool pairing make up for many shortcomings of the other and complement one another nicely.

I did not figure out a way of imputing the annotations themselves into Voyeur;  the results of which would have been more than thrilling for me at this point.  However, alternatively, I input the entirety of Emerson’s  “Intellect” into Voyeur and produced the following the results:

It was interesting to see (note: the top right corner of the ‘Word Trends’ chart) the correlation of Voyeur’s trending of truth and the identical spike pattern formed when put into a “track” in Highbrow.  True, data is data, the solidification of cohesiveness between the tools was refreshing given the complications presented throughout Phase II.  A few tools disagreed with one another more than once leaving room for doubt about the effectiveness of one or each tool.  I returned to the Voyant interface and I noticed shortcomings about Voyeur I hadn’t picked up on before.  When coming back to Voyeur again after a long absence and recently experimenting with Highbrow, I found that the Corpus Reader is excruciatingly ineffective in comparison to that of Highbrow’s navigation and heat-map highlighting layout.  Side by side, Voyeur is obviously lacking however, that is just the Corpus Reader.  Voyeur obviously has visual advantages, as best exemplified in my blog post: Singing with the Gravedigger, over Highbrow many of which are not as effective as they could be with Highbrow without first extracting user commentary.  I would love to see how Highbrow could be further taken into the other tools of ENGL203 and how it could match up with the other tools.  The ability to calculate frequencies within the text to then correlate with Highbrow’s human annotations based on activity spikes.

 

Putting it into Practice: “Reading with the Stars…and Scholarly Peers”

Rohrbach and Tagnani mentioned that what gauged the most reaction from students was an amalgamation of peer interaction and the public stage of the web.  This excitement and student exchange was part of the framework of our own classroom setting in English 203.  At one point in the “Prof. Hacker” blog post, they mention – “Indeed, when our students at WSU found out that they could read comments from a group of students approaching the text from a different context, the excitement was palpable: they wanted to see what students from another school and another kind of class thought about the text.”  Attempting to set Highbrow onto a classroom was probably one of the cleverest things possible for its capabilities and emphasizes each of the strengths that I discovered in my journey with “Reading with the Stars.”  They are as follows:

  • As the writers of the aforementioned blog post eloquently put it, Highbrow is like “reading through the lens of established experts.”   How much more fortunate can any student get?  For academic writing, the ability to have elite annotations from several centuries, alongside hypothesis testing tools such as Voyeur, would improve the quality standard of essays, academic papers and critical thinking as a whole.
  • On top of that, and providing further fuel for student minds, Engles is an actively involved programmer.  Rohrbach and Tagnani proved this in their described discourse with the creator,  illustrating him as delighted to assist and collaborate with them in their effort to establish “Reading with the Stars” at Washington State University.  Engles’ Alpha 2 is a screen cast about the highly enticing concept (and his plan) to incorporate multimedia into Highbrow.  In short, and certainly not doing the theory justice; the video really is a must watch, he is attempting to add the interactivity of annotating into multimedia such as videos as well as adding famous artwork based on literature as new tracks or perhaps timelines.  The video demo is, of course, not without his signature organization strategy of cutting the whole into tidy segments.  Further adding to his dedication, and as a result adding to the strength of the browser itself, Engles mentions that he is devoted to “adding new features every week for the next few months.”
  • We’re not done yet folks!  Highbrow/Reading with the Stars also provides potential benefits for the educators!  Associate Professor Augusta Rohrbach says herself that in her own classroom: “There is simply not time for everyone to contribute every class period, and the less confident and more introverted students find it easy to just hide in the crowd.”  This becomes true for every class discussing a literary work(s) and especially when it comes to analyzing said literary text; tenfold in a humanities lab.  When everyone wants to speak and provide a lengthy explanation, only 5-10 out of 100 get to speak and the hesitant/shy students are left quiet in the back row with their potentially break-through ideas remaining unfulfilled or expanded.  With Highbrow and Voyeur, alongside perhaps a more textual based tool like Wordhoard or Tapor; students can collaborate and build a strong and thorough breakdown of a text using mediums that best suits how their thoughts progress.  As commentary builds on the ever-growing student tree of side notes – the more each thought fuels newer, deeper questions.  Where the previous problem was too many voices and not enough space, the issue evolves into a strength for the classrooms digital environment: the more the merrier.  With so many voices and thoughts flowing via annotations, and with the superior organization of text Highbrow offers, professors can keep “track” of it (pun intended) easily by monitoring separate student tracks and annotation spikes.  More information regarding this and other ideas can be found in Engles’ third installment of his screen cast tutorials: Alpha 3: Interactive Editing.
  • One of the comment reviews about Highbrow I agree with the highest enthusiasm is that of anonymous ‘Tim’ who says “[It] would be wonderful for Buddhist studies which has 2000 years’ worth of commentaries.” This is particularly exciting for collaborating with Voyeur as the view of ancient texts through the lens of modern digital tools would breathe fresh life and doubtless new perspectives for new and old generations alike.
  • Lastly, I would like to point out a particular strength that Highbrow had a high hand over all of the tools English 203 studied: text location and isolation.  The precision Highbrow has displayed remains unmatched by Voyeur and to the best of my knowledge, any of the other tools.  Highbrow, with greater ease than it would be to flip to a chapter in a print book, isolates precise segments (such as cantos and acts) from the rest of the text – ready for examination by eager students.

Highbrow combines both qualitative and quantitative information, whereas Voyeur expands on the quantitative.  As I mentioned in an earlier “Phase I” blog post Voyeur is mainly a hypothesis testing tool – putting words into math-like calculations which may then potentially be further speculated.  Highbrow/Reading with the Stars, as it is peer and comment based, is most likely most useful for hypothesis generating.  Together: THEY WILL BE VICTORIOUS (too much?)

 

The End?
I think the connected functionality of this program will lead to a more united classroom.  It could potentially further encourage layering peer thoughts creating one or two linear thoughts as opposed to a separated classroom movement. Although English 203 came together, and watching it come together was probably one of the most enjoyable aspects about blogging, I could see a place for Highbrow as an addition to any classroom rather than a replacement altogether. Blog posts would continue to allow students to freely express and layout their personal thoughts on a page, easily a necessity in this course; and Highbrow to draw out the introverts and build confidence in their ideas as well as shine a new light on the same text for everyone to realize ideas they didn’t know they had.  The next logical step for books is digital humanities, evidently, but we don’t want to lose our relationship with the stories, authors and text. Together, we make it stronger instead of simply replicating the effect of annotations by peer commenting and annotating.

With the addition of Voyeur, visual stimuli would undoubtedly lead “students to think more deeply about those passages, passages that they may have initially ‘took at surface level,’” (as one student had mentioned) – not unlike the realizations of our own humanities course by semester’s end.  Although Highbrow does not at first seem much different than our own classroom blogging method, the ability to annotate alongside the text increases the student relationship with the writer and text (much like writing all over our hard copies has done for us in the past) and decrease writer’s block intimidation and perfectionism.  It’s like building an anthology, complete with graphs, for future classes or perhaps assisting other classrooms and students across the world!

 

A Rocky Start, A Triumphant Finish

Introduction: Taking the book worm into the realm of computers

This semester has been a roller coaster to say the least. I started this term as a traditional reader with a pen in one hand and the book, play or texts in the other and was dropped into the world of computers, computer programs and digital analysis. (Terrifying, I know.) My initial feelings with the whole process were feelings of trepidation, anxiety and a little bit angry that new technology was taking over something I have always loved. Andrew Prescott wrote in his blog,  “a sense of being overwhelmed by technology, of anxiety about the way in which new technologies are transforming society”, which is exactly how I felt. “Why change something that is not and was not broken” was also something that kept going through my mind in the introductory weeks.

I am a person that is not a fan of change, so I really struggled to find the beauty in the digital humanities. My internal struggle and my main questions during the semester were focusing on the pros and cons of the quantitative process over the traditional qualitative process. How will the numbers, figures and pictures help us gain more insight and new views into texts we have studied for centuries? Will this type of analysis help or hinder the reader and researcher when looking at a piece of work?

Trials and Tribulations with TAPoR

My first foray into the digital humanities world was less then promising. The tool I was given was TAPoR and for the computer impaired, it was torture to figure out. I saw my grades slip from between my fingers and so I cursed all things computers for the next month or so. My first few blogs I posted were less then steller to me but most people found pure enjoyment from them. TAPoR and I could not seem to work together, and the more I pushed the more it pushed back with error messages. A couple of error messages is not bad but when you run 12 separate searches and get 12 different error messages it just takes computers fighting back to a whole new level.

For your enjoyment here are a few:

 

Once I figured out what TAPoR likes and what is does not, I started seeing results. This was a glimmer of hope in what I was sure was a doomed project. However, this glimmer soon flickered out and I again I was left in the dark hopelessly trying to find the light. The huge problem I have found using my tool is that same results are hard to come by. For example I used the same program (TAPoR), and the same text (Hamlet), and ran them through the same tool called CAPS Finder, each time I got a different result. I was starting to think that this program had it out for me so I enlisted my fellow classmates to redo the same search with the parameters I had already set. Sadly, out of 5 TAPoR users we did not get the same results.

After weeks spent slaving over the computer, TAPoR and I had come to a working agreement where it would give me result 50% of the time. This is was huge step into realizing that this whole thing may not be so bad.

Qualitative Research

I have a soft spot for Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I have studied this play over 7 times in an academic setting and every single time I find something new, interesting and different. While the quantitative results I got did shock me and helped me find new undiscovered information, I find you still need a human eye/reader. For example, a quote said by the Queen in Act 3,“madness. There is something in his soul..”. TAPoR pulled up the term madness using the concordance tool but it is up to the reader to figure out the significance of this line. Words are mean to be interpreted and a computer cannot help us with this process. It’s a human reader to text process that is the key to figuring out Shakespeare.

Quantitative using TAPoR

This section I will need to break up into two parts, the pros and the cons. Using digital analysis tool was something new for me to experience and it took a while to succumb to the idea.  So the only way to get my full feelings of the program was to break it up.

The Pros

            Within my research I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel when I started looking to the senses and their meanings with Act 3. The senses I took an interest in are: eyes, ears, tongue, sight. I did start the process in a qualitative matter but with out the help of digital humanities would not have found something that I have never realized before. By doing my searches I found that all the senses were connected and used interchangeably within Hamlet. Noticing the patterns of the words and how they were used made my research move forward with ease. This also pains me to say, but I was surprised how efficient and quick it found these patterns. It is a tedious task to do it with the human eye and you will miss a word or two in the process.

I also had the time to research other things using my other textbooks from history and the Internet to figure out the meanings of these words in a historical context. (This was only possible with all the extra time I had, since I was not hunched over a text book for hours on end). The results took to a whole different level of literary analysis, and a greater, deeper meaning of Hamlet.

The Cons

            Well, what can I say? The list of cons dealing primarily with TAPoR is long and tedious but since I have already talked about that, I will list other things in my findings. My number problem I have had with just the digital humanities is that the computer program takes away from the text. I found the more I got into the research aspect using TAPoR the less and less I used my hard copy of Hamlet. There it was, laying on my desk besides my computer, looking lonely and unused. It was a very heart wrenching moment when I realized that in 3 full weeks I have not opened the actual texts onceMaybe I am old fashioned, traditional, or whatever you want to call it but isn’t the text the most important part of literary analysis?

Another issue I found was TAPoR was not the only program with inconsistent results. We used five different programs (Voyeur, Monk, WordHoard, and WordSeer) and every single one gave us different results. It was hard to trust which program was right or not so we just put all our results into the our research and hoped for the best.

Conclusion

Andrew Prescott compared the birth of digital humanities as necessary as the “industrial revolution and the birth of print.” It may very well be and I honestly do like it for certain things.  It is definitely a time saver with the ability to search times quicker then the traditional methods. It can pull out patterns, words and phrases that a human cannot do with only missing something while doing so, and with such certainty. However, I have said this in my pervious blogs, this is a tool NOT a replacement to traditional methods of reading and analyzing a text. No computer or program can show you the beauty of these words put together on a page. Without the reader we cannot get the meaning that the author was trying to get across nor can we understand the text fully when we know that Shakespeare used the word “mad” a lot.

I have come a long way since the start of the semester. Digital humanities and programs will be a tool I will use as I proceed through my degree but it will not replace my book and pen. This has been an experience for me that I will cherish for all I have learned. I hope you all enjoyed the process as much as I have! Enjoy

 

Works Cited

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

Prescott, Andrew. Blog- http://digitalriffs.blogspot.ca/2012/01/electric-current-of-imagination-what.html?showComment=1334169799982

 

The Favorability of Textual Analysis In English

Beginning the Journey with WordHoard

I walked into English 203 with the preconceived idea that we would be studying a literary text and analyzing it with the discoveries made by physically reading the text. Instead I was introduced to a whole new world of textual study; digital humanities. Up until the first day of class I was oblivious to the idea that literary texts could be studied using programs on my computer. Being someone who loves to find a “quick route” to any task, this new concept made me doubt all the traditional analysis I had done for other English classes in University.

I began my journey into the tech savvy world of digital humanities with a not so fancy partner by the name of WordHoard. Through our journey we had our ups and downs (the full details can be found in my second blog post); although the downs surpassed the ups in quantity, the advantages of having WordHoard as a tool ready to analyze alongside me helped balance out the negatives. WordHoard is a great starting tool for students like me who are just being introduced to the possibilities of technological analysis. While analyzing Act 3 Scene 4 in  our first phase, I couldn’t help but wonder if the “discoveries” I was making with WordHoard could have just as easily been found if I were to do a close reading of the play myself. Those small seeds of doubt gave way to the growing thoughts of whether digital analysis was even needed to better understand a text. Like all things in life, the rose colored glasses of technological research had to come off and I had to decide if I would ever take part in the digital humanities world after the conclusion of my English 203 class or if the knowledge I attained during these four months would eventually be stored away in the back of my brain.

Distracted by Appearances

We as humans have a tendency to focus on items that have appealing appearances; like children we reach out for the bright object, unconsciously attracted to its shine. That attraction towards a shiny object exists in the digital humanities as well. In Fred Gibbs‘ article Organizing Early Modern Texts he gives an anecdote about the printing press. During the early 19th century, the printing press faced competition from newer sleeker methods of printing such as engraving. In order to cut the competition, printers began to add artistic borders to the pages being print. Were these borders or ornamental designs helpful or necessary in regards to the print? Nope; instead as Gibbs said “the medium had overtaken the message”.

How is this related to Digital Humanities? After working with the various analysis tools in Phase 1 and Phase 2, we became familiar with the many different functions these tools have. While some were useful, others made you wonder what the point of the function was at all. The image above is a screen shot of a word cloud from Voyeur; the larger the word is the more it’s used in the play. While this image helps me conclude that Hamlet is the most used word in the play, I don’t make any great epiphanies by studying it. The image itself is appealing, such that I could use it as an art piece to decorate my room but it would be on the lower end of the scale of its usefulness in analyzing Hamlet. The same information could easily be stated in a window without all the art work. The screen shot below shows us that the word Hamlet was used 85 times in the whole play and goes on to show the dialogues it was used in.

During Phase One, my group and I focused on mastering WordHoard; of course this wasn’t possible in the short time span, but we tried our best to at least know how to run the program! Throughout this phase our main complaint was how WordHoard looked so plain in comparison to the fancy screen shots everyone else had for their tools. It wasn’t until we joined together with other members who had expertise in the different tools in Phase 2 that we came to realize that WordHoard, although lacking in the visual department, had an advantage over some tools when it came to analyzing the text itself.

This brings me back to the point that although the other tools look better or present their data in artistic forms, they are unnecessary for the analysis of the play. A literary text can be analyzed just a well without the multicolored word clouds or line webs. When using digital tools we can fall prey to the appearance of the data being represented but we aren’t really progressing further in our research. Instead the medium, or method in which the data is presented, over shadows the data itself. Digital analysis of texts is useful but I believe that we do not need all the “bells and whistles” which these tools come equipped with in order to better understand a text; instead these functions can sometimes serve as a distraction from what we are really looking for.

Quantitative versus Qualitative

I’ve always enjoyed reading my novels with a pen in hand ready to vandalize the prim and clean pages of the book. You get an odd sense of satisfaction by writing down a note or underlining a specific sentence especially when those scribbles help you read in between the lines of what the author has written. You feel a connection to the author because you uncovered the deeper meaning behind their words. What I missed the most this semester was the connection you have with the text by close reading. That isn’t to say that the Digital Humanities prevent you from better understanding a text or making a connection with the author because it does help you your analysis. Both the traditional method of analysis and digital analysis help you research a text but the only difference is that the traditional method of close reading allows for a qualitative analysis while the digital one is more quantitative in its results. In order to better understand this concept, I will compare the two methods of analysis.

                Textual Analysis

In Phase 2, my group members and I revolved our research around the theme of madness (more details in my blog post). For my part of the research I searched up how the other actors in the play reacted to Hamlets “madness”. Limited by what I could search up using my tool (WordHoard doesn’t search up synonyms of words) I had to literally go through all of Act 3 and find quotes made by the different actors regarding Hamlet’s madness. This wouldn’t have been possible because the characters do not always use the word madness when they speak of Hamlet; close reading is required to understand their view points. The following are quotes I found from my Hamlet book.

  • Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little, was not like madness. There’s something in his soul. (Claudius, 3.1.166)
  • O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! (Ophelia 3.1.152)

As you can see madness is not the only word used to describe Hamlet’s disposition. I would never have thought of searching up the words “noble mind” or “o’erthrown” therefore I would have missed out on Ophelia’s opinion of Hamlet’s insanity. This would definitely hinder my analysis if I were to solely base my research on discoveries made through digital analysis. Even without the use of a technological tool, I can interpret through close reading that Claudius doesn’t truly believe Hamlet is mad but has a motive behind that insanity. Ophelia’s interpretation is that Hamlet is mad, but this madness is just a phase which he can move out of and eventually be restored to his normal self.

                Digital Analysis

Through the use of WordHoard I made the following discovery in Phase 1:

In the whole play, Hamlet is the one who uses the word madness the most. This can give way to the idea that Hamlet encourages the people to believe he is insane by constantly using the term himself. I can also make the conclusion that madness is a major theme in the play because the word itself is used the most in Hamlet when compared to other Shakespearean plays. Both of these inferences are based on the quantitative data presented by WordHoard. I didn’t have to do the time consuming act of reading through the whole play in order to highlight madness whenever I see it and count how many time sits used, neither did I have to read any other Shakespearean play to compare it to Hamlet.

After my comparison you can see that the textual analysis is qualitative because your interpretations are more in depth and made after you give the words more thought while digital analysis is quantitative because the interpretations made were not truly based on deep thought but rather on the data presented by the digital tool. While I prefer close textual reading even I can admit to the fact that a combination of both traditional and digital analysis is necessary to conduct efficient research in regards to literary texts. Some might believe that the use of technology to make inferences in literature is just another way to accommodate our lazy generation but this is incorrect because as I’ve show the computer cannot make interpretations or develop great epiphanies; it is still the researcher’s responsibility to uncover the message of the text. Fred Gibbs gives a perfect explanation when he says “Digital methodologies leverage the computer’s ability for mindless drudgery to help us do and see more than we would otherwise—and hopefully make discoveries that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

My Train of Thought

The introduction of digital tools to the written world has been an amazing innovation for literary researchers; I won’t deny it because everything needs an upgrade from time to time. During a time when the analysis of texts was long, repetitive and in some cases inefficient, tools such as WordHoard, WordSeer, Tapor, Monk and Voyeur have given those who choose to undertake the task of literary analysis a chance to move past the long tiring hours spent close reading several texts and focus on the actual comparisons being made. The use of digital tools helped me:

  • Compare several Shakespearean plays to Hamlet giving me insight on the various meanings of words in different contexts
  • Easily quantify data found when comparing scenes, acts or even plays
  • Interpret the data found through visuals
  • Analyze Hamlet a lot faster than I would have done through close textual reading alone

I cannot deny that the use of digital tools to dig into Shakespeare’s Hamlet made literary analysis somewhat easier but neither can I say that it helped me make a mind blowing inference that I couldn’t have made through text analysis. Digital Humanities helped me move through the analysis of a play a lot faster than I could have ever done on my own but I also feel that there are certain texts which are just not suited for the technological world. We live in a society where we desire everything to be accessible to moment we want it; we’ve become impatient and this outlook has seeped into all aspects of our life, even the way we read. This need for speed, I believe, is unfair to English literature which with its richness in complexity and meaning deserves for us to spend time thinking over what we have read. For early modern texts and Shakespearean plays, I think it is crucial for us to use our own minds to think critically of the text. Till this day I can reread The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or Jane Austens’ Pride and Prejudice over and over again because I make a new discovery every time I move through the pages. Digital Humanities will play a role in literary analysis but it can only go so far before the researcher has to turn to traditional textual analysis.

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

It Begins at the Beginning and Ends at the End

Introduction:

I have stated many times how conflicted I have been about this class. Having absolutely no idea about what it contained when I first entered, I was first struck by two things. One, was Professor Ullyot’s absolute enthusiasm for the subject that he was teaching and the second was the how foreign the subject matter was to me (in the sense of the digital humanities). Having been raised in the first digital era and still retaining vague memories of dial-up, I was fully aware of the capabilities of computers, how far they have advanced and how they could shape lives and ideas. It was an oversight on my part that I did not fully recognize that they could also be used in analyzing English and the literature within it. Looking back I can now fully recognize my error however, my whole experience has come away a bit bittersweet. My personal tool which I used (Voyeur) was easy to operate however I felt that while it had a great number of tools, the number of useful tools that I possessed was somewhat low. However, at least my tool was able to operate on a fairly regular basis. Looking at the other word tools and that issues that they caused my peers, their irregularity has to be acknowledged as an issue that the digital humanities community must face if they wish their field to progress. However at the same time I find myself thinking of different texts that we would be able to analyze with these tools, despite their faults. That would be the enthusiasm of Professor Ullyot shining through.  This picture by Beetroot Design Group shows every “Romeo” and “Juliet” through the entire play connected by red lines with 55,4440 lines used total…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pictures reminded me of the digital humanities and their ability to connect thoughts and ideas through a text that we may not have known about before. I love that about the digital humanities, however the flawed method that they are administered through causes me headaches and heartache.

 

Hamlet:

Having read Hamlet once before in high school, I felt that I had a fairly good overview of the play. While I think it would have been interesting to have different groups examine different texts within the separate tools, I feel that the use of a well-known text such as Hamlet allowed a good backdrop for learning the different nuances of the digital humanities. Since it is such a universally known story, it allowed each of us to concentrate on how the digital humanities tools helped us to understand the text rather then having simultaneously learn the plot and analyze the text. In my earlier blog post “Frustration and An Abundance of Claudius” (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/frustration-and-an-abundance-of-claudius/), I examined Claudius and his speech throughout Act 4 using Voyeur.  It was through the use of my tool, that I was able to identify Claudius’ concern for all of the other characters within the scene, repeatedly mentioning each one in turn. While this is a plot tidbit that I probably would have been able to uncover through a more through reading of the play, the digital tool allowed me to examine his speech in a different context using the Word Trends tool. Using that tool allowed me to examine Claudius’ behavior within Act 4 using not only the provided literature, but also the literature in a graphical form. As the digital humanities evolves and changes, so too will our methods of interpreting text and thus more nuances within the stories can be uncovered.

Voyeur:

While still in Phase I, my Voyeur group and I sat down and decided to discover our tool together rather than going off by ourselves and discovering it on our own. For our own particular group, this method worked very well. Being able to collaborate and use each other as resources became an invaluable aspect of the Phase II aspect of this course. In my Phase I blog post “Art Deco and Flexibility” (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/art-deco-and-flexibility/) I went over some of the additional tools that Voyeur had to offer and found them to be slightly lacking. Sure they looked pretty, however the way that they presented their information was vague and difficult to decipher. The balance between the aesthetics and functionality has to be maintained. While thinking of the future development of the digital humanities this aspect must be taken into consideration when designing future programs. One aspect of Voyeur which we found to be advantageous was the tools ability to analyze certain parts of text rather than being forced to analyze the entire corpus/text. It allowed for flexibility within the corpus while maintaining the same level of analysis as the larger bodies of text. While I do enjoy Voyeur for the certain advantages that it holds, it must be maintained that all of the digital tools must operate together in order to create a comprehensive picture of the text.

Tangent or Future?:

Are the digital humanities the future, or simply a tangent? I happily sit on the fence on this argument. While it is lovely to maintain that there are only two sides to this argument and pack everything up in little boxes and force people to each choose sides, the issue is more complex then that. On the one hand, technology is progressing at an extraordinary rate and advancing so quickly that I dare not even fathom what they might be capable of in the future. The insights that we gained from our tools while examining Hamlet were some that could have possibly taken years to undertake by hand. Voyeur adds a level of visual detail which helps some people to better grasp Shakespeare while some of the large corpus tools such as MONK analyze entire bodies of work and find the details within seconds. These are advantages of the digital humanities which cannot be ignored. However, does the rise of these new text analysis tools mean the failure of books and the abandonment of older methods?

Not necessarily.

While the new digital tools offer some new methods with which to analyze, the same job could in fact be accomplished by a scholar sitting at desk with nothing but pen and paper, it would take much longer for sure however in the end, the same result is gained. One also has to consider how long it takes to create programs such as these and how someone would have to go through every single manuscript word by word and mark down the speakers, the nouns, the verbs etc. Would that same amount of time also be used to gain the same results as sticking them into a computer to analyze? I must admit some weariness amount the foothold that technology has gained on our lives. In academia the effect is omnipresent, in the ten courses that I attended in the last year of university only one did not require a computer. Professors post their notes on Blackboard or use texting polls in class or use digital textbooks and quizzes to test our knowledge. In examining this I have to wonder what would occur should one part of it fail? No digital systems is without it’s flaws as evidenced by to error messages ourselves faced when completing this project.

My main point is that my book won’t break when I hit it with a hammer and it never runs out of batteries.

Conclusion:

While this class has had it’s share of ups and downs I am very glad that I experienced it. It opened up my mind to new methods of analyzing text and introduced me to new facets of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. The digital tools must be used together in order to have the most comprehensive picture of the text you are attempting to analyze. In the manner of future Vs. tangent, I back away slowly and embrace a more ambitious future where they both exist in somewhat strained peace.

Last Post of the Semester- My final thoughts on the Digital Humanities

Throughout the semester I faced many challenges and pleasant discoveries in the realm of the “Digital Humanities.” The digital humanities served as a further development to my previous knowledge of Hamlet, allowing me to realize just what I had missed when I was simply reading the text for what it was instead of carefully analysing it. This class, English 203- Literary Analysis, made me critically focus on what word choices Shakespeare used and how these particular word choices lead to his different types of play genres and character developments.

Of course, as I have passionately expressed before in my previous blogs- the digital humanities proved to be rather difficult at first and then just plain frustrating after I knew how to work it but technical difficulties came in the way. I thought- What’s the point of his?! I understand the play perfectly well! I know Hamlet is a tragedy play, I know how each character is and I most certainly know the events in the plot. But that wasn’t the point of this class- merely to read the play and write a summary on it. Dr. Ullyot pushed us by making us research and use the digital humanities (programs: Wordhoard, Wordseer, Voyeur, Tapor, and MONK), to help us understand the significance behind what happens in the plot. Identifying certain words demonstrated importance in knowing who dominated the play by speech, and it was easy to recognize each characters relationship with one another. For example, I was able to search a basic theme in Hamlet such as “death” and then do a double search by typing in a person, and seeing how many times death is said or related to that one particular person. This was a huge benefit of Wordseer, and I could keep adding further searches to have a solid idea of what I could potentially be looking for. That is one of the beauties of the digital humanities- one can use it as a hypothesis tool and then use the other tools to find different results. One can come out of it by getting little conclusions and ideas on one thing, or keep going until one has a massive conclusion encompassing everything one possibly wanted to find.

The image shows a comparative search in Wordseer using a theme (death) and a character (father). The image below that one shows the same results as the left, but with a further search of another theme (revenge).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, another benefit I found with the digital humanities was when I was doing my Phase 2 project with my group on Act 4. Kira, who was using Tapor, was able to find words associated with a character’s personality by checking the word frequencies of those words. The importance of this is that we found words used more often for one character than another, giving us a better idea of that character. This is an example of Kira’s finding in relation to Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.

 

According to this video I stumbled upon on Youtube regarding the digital humanities- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SqkzFwnwDYthere are definitely points and arguments that I agree on and support. Whether I like it or not, the digital humanities IS the future of analysing literature and perhaps the presenter’s point on reading the literature online and using the digital humanities will have the perfect balance of using technology and still using the traditional method of actually “reading” the literature first. He mentions that it will serve to be eco friendly and create“openness.” By being open, I believe he means that information and data will be a lot more accessible, and this will be to everyone and not just a number of people in the publishing or scholarly world. As well as this, I take it that it could also mean that when one reads the text from a book and only trust their own instincts on their findings, it “closes” their mind up to further development on that particular text and by using the digital humanities, one will find more than what they thought or were expecting- therefore opening up their literary horizon. I will give props to the digital humanities for also serving as a social network in its own right. Sure, it’s not the new Facebook, but it is a link of blogs, videos, scholarly journals that anybody can read and one will keep reading and find more links that lead them to just that right person they need to know that will get them published or get them recognized for another piece of work. It does increase the competition no doubt as more and more people are getting their works “published” on the web, but the initial challenge of getting read is huge, and I believe the digital humanities offers that first step.

After mentioning this great opportunity the digital humanities has to offer, personally, I believe this just to be a bonus and not the end all, be all. I would never just go to the digital humanities and try to find everything that I could, because I much prefer the old method of reading and looking out for the important and thematic words myself. I do realize that this would take substantially longer, and technology serves to better convenience us, however, it takes away from the art form of what English students do and serves to be something that anybody, not just English junkies can do. There is nothing wrong with this, but I strongly feel that the digital humanities would be better as a secondary source of information and not the one and only source. There will be a time when reading a book and marking it up with findings will not even exist, but perhaps reading it for what it is and take what you get from it is good enough. Isn’t that how it was supposed to be when the work was first written? As the years go on, it is important to read through and understand the word choices because it gives one a glimpse of society and life back in the days, and it also helps us see how the English language has changed and transformed.

I was against the digital humanities for the main reason that it took away from the art, making something creative and crafted, into a scientific solution. It kind of reminds me of the point I learned in my Shakespeare class just recently concerning the romance play: The Tempest. Prospero uses magic to manipulate and create events to his benefit, and he describes it as his art form- something that can be altered and changed. If it were scientific, it would be fact- no change about it. So here I was thinking the digital humanities was trying to make art into fact, but I know realize that it is further adding creativity into the mix by changing our ideas of Hamlet rather than making us stick to our concrete biases and own judgment of Hamlet. So, was I originally taken the art away from this piece?

When studying a piece of literature, there are questions one is asked in order to analyse and annotate the text. There’s this video that is a good example of what questions one might ask about Hamlet and it is because of these questions that the Digital Humanities serves to be so vital in our entire understanding of the play. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne5N1vHMttw

Without finding themes, frequencies of words, relationships with characters and their characteristics, or characters and other words- it would be harder to answer one’s initial questions about the play. When going through the digital humanities, there is direct quotes and evidence in passages that would literally take ages to find on one’s own. It goes through the entire text or particular scenes or acts and does all the work for you pretty much, the only thing is that you must provide the technology with what to find. It still relies on our human smarts and literary knowledge in order to know what to look for and only then can it provide substantial amounts of data.

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.

Conclusion

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?

References: 

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

Thanks to: Mike Cosgrave and Aditi Muralidharan

 

 

 

The Digital Humanities: What It Has to Offer

First Impressions of the Digital Humanities

When I first learned that in English 203, we would be using the digital humanities to analyze Hamlet, my initial thought was fear. I have never been a technologically savvy person, and when I learned from the course syllabus that we would be spending the entire course focussing on the newfound digital side of the humanities, I cannot deny that I was fairly anxious about the course. The closest that I have ever come to using technology for English was when I used the online dictionary or thesaurus for some of my essays. My first thoughts about having to use computers for this course, was that we would have to be able to program software, or design tools that would help with picking out themes. Now that I look back at my initial responses, they seem ridiculous and far-fetched to me. The idea of actually having to program and design tools no doubt came from paranoia I had about computers, because I am so technologically inept. I was very comfortable analyzing literature the old fashioned way, with a text in one hand, and a pen in the other, so when change was mentioned, I got a little carried away with my ideas of what that change would bring. Fortunately, what we actually had to do was nothing like my far-fetched first impressions. The only thing that made my journey through English 203 a little more difficult than it should have been was that I was one of those lucky people that got chosen to use TAPoR as their tool. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, TAPoR is very temperamental. It seems to work only when it feels like it, and only if you set it up in a specific way. The only way it worked, for me at least, was if you only used the tools that ended in (html). Otherwise, the only response you received was one of TAPoR’s multiple error messages.
As well as having specific conditions, I felt as though this program changed its mind quite a bit. What I mean by that is that if I tried to do something and it didn’t work, if I tried it a little bit later, it would work. An example of this would be when I first tried to use documents from My Texts instead of putting in the URL, it wouldn’t work. However, when I tried using the texts that I had saved in the program later on in phase one, TAPoR decided to co-operate, and I was able to actually obtain a result. Due to these specifications and issues TAPoR had, it is not surprising that in the beginning of phase one, I started to believe that you had to work for the tool, rather than with it. Instead of using the tool to help me, like I should have been doing, I was using the tool just because it was a necessary component for this course. After I had used TAPoR for the first few times, I felt as though in order to find any relevant results at all, I had to know what it was that I was looking for. Instead of using the tools to help me find themes and ideas within Hamlet, I more or less used the program to find evidence of those themes and ideas. During this part of the course, I honestly thought that the program was much more trouble than it was worth. Before I was introduced to TAPoR, I was perfectly able to delve into the depths of Hamlet the old fashioned way, using nothing more than a highlighter, pen, and my brain.

Growing with the Digital Humanities

After a while of having this pessimistic view of the Digital Humanities, I began to gain some respect for what TAPoR, and the rest of the digital tools we were using, could do. Going into the second phase of our team projects, I was able to see what the benefits of using online tools were. Though using TAPoR was definitely not my first choice of tools that I could have used, it appeared to be helpful in the end. Unsure of what to talk about in the final group project, I used one of the simpler tools that TAPoR provides to give me some ideas. The only thing that this tool was able to do was list the most used words in a specific text.

Though this task is not something a person would consider difficult, it did yield some very interesting results. After finding this piece of data, I was almost able to completely forgive TAPoR for its inability to co-operate and its incredibly large error message collection. In a former blog post, and in my final group project, I mentioned how finding this specific word at the top of the list inspired me to look deeper into the play. I have mentioned it again here because this was a pivotal moment for the Digital Humanities and I. This was the part of the course for me when I realized just how helpful the digital humanities can be. This program was able to show me something new, something I would have other wised missed if I had not used TAPoR. Even though, due to the opinions of my classmates and me, TAPoR was not the best tool, it was still able to provide me with information that I found interesting. It was this point in my research that I was able to fully understand the gift that is using online tools to do research. Later on into phase two, I also realized how helpful the other tools were. After TAPoR showed me to look into the use of the word “Lord” by Ophelia, Voyeur was able to show me how her use of the word declined as the story went on.
With these two results that the tools gave me, I was able to piece together the declination of Ophelia’s respectful attitude. This is something I honestly would have never noticed if I had not been able to use the tools that we were offered in this class, and it is information that I think is pretty important to the character of Ophelia. The use of these tools was definitely helpful, and I was able to see through this phase, how awesome the Digital Humanities can be.

Digital Humanities: Important, but not quite “Game-Changing”

After finishing phase two of this course, I started to believe in the power of the Digital Humanities. Being much faster and much more efficient than the old school way of highlighting and going through the text to count how many times a word is used, the use of online tools helps us to reach or end goal of comprehension in a much shorter time period. That is why, on the last day of class, I chose to side with the people fighting for the digital, rather than those fighting for the classic way.

In this last debate, it was interesting to see what other peoples honest thoughts were about the digital humanities. There were many conspiracy theories about how in the future, about how there will be no books, only people reading with their kindle or ipad, and about how children are going to grow up without ever having seen a book. Missing out on the ability to truly look into the novel or play they must read for class, these children will grow up never knowing what the true meaning of analyzing literature is. Although these aren’t the exact words the team against the Digital Humanities used, it is a feeling of fear that seems to be shared by quite a few people. In the blog Game Change: Digital Technology and Performative Humanities by Tom Scheinfeldt, he talks about how many people refer to the introduction of the digital humanities as a complete “Game Change”. Tom Sheinfeldt defines the phrase “game change” as something that redefines the original action, and an entirely different action (or game) is produce. He does this in the terms of baseball, the game in which this term was first used. After Babe Ruth changed the game with his ability to score homeruns in the likes that no one had ever seen before, baseball players needed different skills from the previous ones in order to successfully play this new game.
He then goes on to talk about how with this definition, there is nothing game changing about the new usage of digital humanities. Although it is new, and is in a format never seen before, online tools are used for the same purpose and to the same end that previous ways of text analyses have been used. With this new and advanced system of text analysis, the objectives stay the same. We look for important words or phrases, or different things that have been used in conjunction with each other often. These searches that we do, the items that we look for in a text, stay the same. The only difference in the way we used to analyze something, compared to how we analyze it now, is that we are making the research work for the time period we live in. With today’s technology, we are able to do everything that we have always done, but in an easier and more efficient way that is better for everyone. Being able to use today’s technology does not change what we have always been doing, but rather adapts our process to today’s society. If, in the future, kids grow up learning how to analyze texts through these online programs instead of learning on paper the way we have, not much will have changed. The will still be looking for things people have always searched for, but they will be doing it in a way that is more familiar to them and to their generation.

Concluding thoughts about the digital humanities

As I have mentioned above, I definitely went into English 203 with some doubts and some fears as to what we would be doing. I had grown accustomed to reading and searching within a text the classic way, and I am not the kind of person to accept change into their life with open arms. This is most likely why so many people believe that the digital humanities is, for lack of better words, such a big deal. The idea of change is terrifying to people who are used to doing something a specific way. This initial dislike of change mixed with the terrifying reality of our world becoming more and more dependent on technology would have a lot of people speculating about the involvement of computers in literary research. They also might be skeptical of the idea of being replaced by a computer, as I was at the beginning. The thought that a computer was able to do what I was able to, but in a faster and more direct was, was also a little insulting. However, as I grew accustomed to my online tool, and what it had to offer, I started to accept the idea that the digital humanities aren’t as scary as they seem. Though TAPoR was able to help me with a few different things, like showing me what to look for, and giving me statistics, it was in no way the overwhelming technological experience that I had feared. While the computer was able to do all of the quantitative research, I was the one who was doing all of the qualitative work. While it is extremely useful and handy to have a computer to do the grunt work for you, without the insight and thoughts of the person doing the research, all you would have would be a bunch of numbers. So, even though I agree that the digital humanities make research much more straightforward, I do not believe that it is the most important part of literary research. In other terms, even with the addition of this new resource, the game of text analysis has not changed all that much.

Endless Context: the Future of the Digital Humanities Ringing in the Digital World

An Introduction

Every time I hear the words “Digital Humanities” I cannot help but think it is some little subset of the DigiWorld. As I have already mentioned in this course, the Digital World of Digimon is the product of massive amounts of information being packed into data, and eventually having enough information to simulate a world of its own. In my opinion, this is not so far-fetched. Take a moment to think about the Internet. There is nothing else that can hold such a massive amount of knowledge, and that is accessible to virtually any person at the speed and ease of the modern digital world. The knowledge comes directly form people who write about life, the planet, it’s functions, and everything their imagination can contribute beyond that. What the Digital Humanities actually is would be the branch between literature and technology. It has existed for ten years, maybe more. On the other hand literature is something that has been around since almost the beginning of recorded human history. It has had thousands of years of development in style and use, but also in cultural development. People have always had personal and historical inspirations for writing and because of this the context of even a single piece of literature is practically endless. Before the Internet, this context and background information was only accessible in physical form or within a great memory. However, by the incredible developments of technology, the Digital Humanities were born making years worth of physical texts into easily accessible data. Suddenly a text from approximately four-hundred years ago is instantly available and so is the history, interpretations, context and author’s biography with a few simple clicks of a button. This is what Sharon Leon is expressing in her post about if the Digital Humanities continue to expand information for countless users, then they will soon become the main resource for study in a given field; however, they will never replace the human aspect of comprehension.

Something New


The introduction to the Digital Humanities was a bit of a shock. For someone who simply adores the books and hours of cross referencing, it was almost unpleasantly simple to find a text in seconds immediately followed by various tools of text analysis. What would be gained by leaving all the work up to the computer and only using our gift of understanding to analyze Hamlet? However, it was no easy task. There were many searches to perform, and many results to be had, but the problem was what to do with them! From word frequencies to comparing Shakespeare’s entire opus we learned to read data. The best example is the NaiveBayes/Word tree analysis. You input a text, and the meaning you predict to come form it. And you get…

What exactly? At first glance this looks like a jumble of gradients and ratios. It looks like maths with visuals. The reactions were of course:

  1. What is Maths doing in the Humanities?
  2. What does it all mean?
  3. Why does it have to mean anything when we could just read instead?

In fact the word tree and NaiveBayes are ratios, probability, and percentages! As a group full of English majors we were both fascinated and terrified. (Link to second blog post) We had not yet deciphered this information, and we had not earned it; therefore, we did not understand it.


Luckily for us, Dr. Ullyot explained in our first few laboratory classes how words and speakers can be tagged. Voila! Instant understanding gained = instant credibility! Thus never caused a great tragedy, but we did need to learn how to link that data with our understanding. Eventually, and with a lot of perseverance we did. Some very cool things we found out were how to compare word counts between Shakespeare plays using the “comparison tool.” Imagine doing that by reading!


In other words Monk served us very well despite being the professed prototype of DH pioneers, one that was soon forgotten due to frustration. The unavoidable thing about frustration; however, is that it tends to lead to broken things… and the great thing about it is that broken things father ingenuity! Phase two was the reveal of all the ingenuity that followed Monk:

http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/marry-this-miching-malicho-it-means-mischief/

Then Monk met TaPOR, Voyeur, Wordhoard and Wordseer. The great discovery then was that each tool, whether cryptic or simple, supplemented the inabilities of the next as seen here: <http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/naive-and-decisive-actually-sums-up-a-lot-of-monk/>  Each partner had learned to link the data being uncovered to understanding, and we successfully delved into a theme of Hamlet that particularly interested each of us. The theme of Hamlet’s madness enables us all to utilize our tools strengths, whether it was searching for a speaker, someone described, or how much madness was in a particular act. Our Act 3 ended up being the maddest of them all including lines like: “That I essentially am not in madness, / But mad in craft” (Act 3, scene 4).  We ended up using such discoveries from Monk as a starting point. The NaiveBayes tool provided us with direction on what, through association, could relate to our search about Hamlet’s madness, and the Monk concordance searches could find a bit of context. From there we could use one of the searches in Voyeur or Wordseer to place it in the text. One of the most intriguing results we found this way was that the tongue and the sword were both spoken of as weapons.  This started a whole project on poisoning the ear with words, and the damage caused by lies and words. Obviously: “The courtier’s, soldier’s, eye, tongue, sword…” (Act 3, scene 1). In the end it turned out that a bunch of English students could learn to leave the searching up to the tools, and to focus on comprehending the results.

400+ years

What would Shakespeare have done if he were to find there was a technology to break down his entire works into categories, word count, or frequency? If there were something to link all his meanings together? He would probably rewrite his plays to make them that much more cryptic!
The wondrous thing about his plays is that they were even complicated for the time they were created. Nowadays there are scholars who devote their lives to discovering the meanings of Shakespeare and the voices of Shakespeare. The article I chose is speculative on the future of museums and archives whether it will be possible to provide on-site enough information to let the average viewer read a work of art or historical artefact like an expert. She imagines a world where information is immediately available to those who seek it. It sounds like the future for those who would take the time to pursue it. I believe this is the future of the Digital Humanities. It would not be that while reading Hamlet notes appear at the side of the text to divine meanings. There are already books suited especially for that. Instead, this would have the power of the internet behind it. All of the searches we can do in the five tools are to deliver what you are searching for in their location, location, location. Sometimes you can even figure out who delivers the line, how often and if similar words were delivered. It is up to us to understand it. The difference, and what I believe is the future, would be to deliver context to the seeker. Not just the immediate ability to see the context and meanings of Shakespeare in notes by previous scholars, but also maps of discovery. What this would mean is that a person would find Hamlet in a digital tool, and not just find a word. The word would come with the initial and evolved definition since Shakespeare’s time, any idiomatic references it may contain of the 1600s, and the option to dive deeper in to what other scholars think about it. From this our understanding would not only be our own limited experience. Sharon Leon wrote:

“The difference here is in the effort to bring together evidence in a user interface that allows for the consideration of many perspectives and multiple causality, as opposed to offering a single perspective that simplifies the past” (http://www.6floors.org/bracket/2012/02/18/content-and-context-visualizations-for-the-public/).

This would be the ultimate information sharing. Anyone could learn about anything. It would open the flood-gates for textual analysis over the internet. The amount of information eventually becomes its own little official world of Shakespeare. If you remember one of my previous posts, Digimon and Divination (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/digimon-and-divination/), this is a continuation of my theory. Not necessarily that the DH world will become a different dimension where small monsters run around (even if this sounds accurate for some of the plays), but that any structure of a certain size becomes official. For proof, just look at the recent additions to the dictionary (e.g. to heart as seen here: http://www.inquisitr.com/101669/omg-lol-fyi-oed/).   The digital humanities may very well become the official source for literary scholars. Although the Humanities, like everything, will become digital it will never actually lose its footing in the physical world. The world of Digital monsters careened out of control because it lost its basis in the physical realm when the programmers abandoned it. Really though, the Humanities will always exist through humans because that is where the value lies. Besides all that the Digital Humanities will never lose its base as long as books still exist in paper… and let us face it; are there really any humanities scholars who do not adore an old fabric bound, gold edged novel from a by-gone era?

For the Love of the Digital

The next question may be… one I have already asked. “Where does the world end and data begin?”
The most shocking thing about computers is really how ridiculously simple they are at their very base. They just constantly make decisions. 1 or 0? Seriously, that is all they are in essence. So what is so complicated about that? Well you should see the extent that it goes to! Have you ever seen a software engineer’s homework? I have, it does not look like it has ANYTHING to do with 1s and 0s. What I do understand about computers and the Internet is, of course, the humanity of it all. I quote myself:
Internet, and the Digital Humanities; “must hold significant portions of the literature that shapes the world we live in. Literature is made in the image of the earth and of human experience, and the characters that inhabit it are in the image of its creatures. The depth that it reaches to is too far to count. It is too far a stretch to say that the universe of data is alternate to the universe of reality?” (http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/digimon-and-divination/)

This is where the appearance of math I mentioned earlier meets that of the humanities. People are fantastic at taking literature and finding meaning in it. Computers are simply made to learn the basics of our patterns of association, so both must contribute. Monk, TaPOR, Wordseer, Wordhoard, and Voyeur can show us what they find, but without knowing how the user cannot appreciate the results. Although we are miles away from writing these programs ourselves, at least we now understand the power we are accessing.
It is incredible how much can be stored in virtually no physical space. It probably would blow Shakespeare’s mind. However, this wonderful thing has its demons. If people can burns books and art to erase ideas, then how hard could it be to highlight and delete…? Fight Club had a point: if you erase all proving data of debt, does it still exist? Banks already lend money that does not exist, making 100% plus interest of it back, effectively stealing from you for using a service.

Anyway, that was a tangent, but hopefully it gets the point across. Things that do not have root in the physical world have no credibility, but the Humanities will never survive without human interpretation. A computer can do whatever it is told, but at present, it will not understand why or how. You can tell it how to find the word “cowardly” and that sometimes “yellow” will mean the same thing, but it will not be able to distinguish when. Nuances are another thing that might never be known to a computer. Also idiomatic meanings, connotative meanings, emotional effect, so the list goes on. In Monk workbench even, you can search for lemmas of “madness” and you will be lucky if it comes up with anything about possession. However, in context, as the Sharon Leon (“Content and Context”) this will be the future. Even then the computer will not care. There are in fact many businesses and services that have gone digital beyond the need of human input. Luckily, this will not be one of them. The humanities have always been rooted in the realm of human experience, in passion, and in literature. As you can tell by the very word “humanities” it will never extend out of the influence of human intervention. The “digital humanities” depends fully on the cooperation of the digital and physical, the computer binary and the abstract human brain, and the fabrications of both. Thus at least there will always be the credibility, and always be the earned knowledge.

And So…

The introduction of the Digital Humanities has been like no other experience. Having comprehension transcend physical books was a scary idea, but I understand now that neither the DH nor literature can exist without the other. Reading will always have understanding and relation to fuel it, and the digital humanities will have its massive stores of data and the ease of accessing it to continue with. Thus the use of the five tools has become a triumph, and it will continue. Since understanding will always be required, the Humanities can march on to provide endless rounds of data association with works of art, literature and artefacts, and no meaning will be lost. Hopefully this is the pure future. Information will be accessible to everyone who chooses to find it, and not just through months of study. There will never be any loss of credibility because only some will choose to understand it fully. And the parallel universe made up of our data about the world we live in will never materialize with digital monsters and a doomsday prediction because… actually I cannot promise that one.

Works Cited:

Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, eds. 2006: Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare. 3rd

Series. London: Thomson Learning. 613 + xxii pp. ISBN 1-904271-33-2

Digital Humanities, My Eyes Are Wide Open.

In the beginning…

In the words of Hamlet, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking it makes it so”. The
digital humanities have two basic critics. The first welcome and anticipate the
new ways of learning through up to date and ever expanding online sources, and
the second to put it simply, aren’t as subject to change and prefer the hands
on approach with the actual play in front of them. However, I find it rather
difficult to associate myself with either group, due to the fact that I feel I
was given a false first impression of all that the Digital Humanities can do
for us. The troubles encountered throughout the term were far from miniscule,
and of course I made sure that everyone knew the feelings I was experiencing,
mostly in a particular phase 1 blog post, ‘The building similarities of Ophelia and I.’ Once
you begin associating yourself with a suicidal and slightly insane Shakespearean character, Ophelia, you know things
aren’t going so well. To say I had some difficult times is a drastic
understatement. If I had to declare a general theme as the base of my blog
posts as a whole throughout phase 1 and phase 2, I would probably say it was Self Pity. My focus was almost strictly
centered around what my text analysis program Monk couldn’t do.
Shakespeare expressed through Hamlet how he felt that the world is run by
opinions, which we often listen to more so than the actual facts. While the
Digital Humanities may have proved themselves useful to me, I developed a
rather sour view on text analysis programs in general, due to the frustration
and confusion I experienced with Monk. It was not until I read Tara Andrew’s
blog post, http://byzantini.st/2012/04/coding-and-collaboration.html, that I
began to understand that the issues I was encountering were not completely one
sided. Andrew’s post was able to open my eyes to the difficulties the creator
undergoes while not only learning to code, but the making of a program. Despite
Monk having swayed my opinion to the negative side of the Digital Humanities at
the beginning, Andrew’s and some further research gave me a new perspective on
how  this ‘new’ concept of studying texts deserves not only recognition, but an understanding of the background work that
goes into it. Due to the unpleasant nature of my ongoing negative issues with
Monk, I am unable to say that this particular program came in use. If I had to
choose between Monk and simply reading through the text myself, I would pick
the old fashioned novel-in-my-hands approach. BUT, after some deep thought,
reading Andrew’s post, and discovering a new find appreciation towards open-mindedness,
I have come to the conclusion that text analysis and the Digital Humanities in
general is a useful alternative to how we would once analyze particular
documents.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions…

Throughout the progression of not only this class, but my own personal time spent at home
in front of the computer, I developed many questions regarding not specifically
Monk, but text analysis in general. At first it was hard for me to understand
what I was doing, let alone WHY I was doing it. As was mentioned in my very
first blog of phase 1, http://hannahlacoursiere.ucalgaryblogs.ca/?p=3,
I referred to my difficulties by stating, “I feel the need to blame it mostly on my extreme lack of abilities to operate a
computer properly.”
But it wasn’t just my rather small knowledge on technology that was setting me back. In
order for me to understand things properly, I have to know WHY I am doing it,
and for some reason this was hard for me to wrap my brain around. I kept asking
myself…

  •         What is the point of text analysis?
  •         Wouldn’t it just be easier to stick to the original old fashioned way of strictly learning by hands on approach with the
    novel right in front of me?

Following my discovery of Andrew’s blog post, which mostly expressed the difficulties faced by the creator, I developed two new questions:

  •         Is either individual’s effort worth it?
  •         Do the struggles that both ends of the spectrum experience through learning and creating ultimately pay off?

 

Monk and Failed Expectations

Spending all of your time on analyzing the negative side of a
particular subject, doesn’t help anybody, especially when you are working with
a group. Nevertheless, I continually felt as though I was a big disappointment
to my entire phase 2 group, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t seem to find any
value in what Monk had to offer me. It was only once we were able to
collaborate our programs uses that I figured out a way to look at texts through
Monk in a seemingly helpful manner. By receiving frequent text lists from my
fellow Wordhoard and Voyeur experts, I was able to examine the context in which
they appeared through the Concordances tool, as seen below.

 

 

 

 

 

For example, after discovering that ‘alas’ was a commonly used
weird amongst Gertrude’s vocabulary, I searched it through Monk, and was able
to get a better grasp on the particular situations in which she used this
specific word. I often wondered if what I was doing would have been just as easily
done by examining the text by looking through the actual play, but in this
case, Monk proved itself to be a time saver as well as it was able to show all
the occurrences of the word in a list, which saves you from having to flip back
and forth through the book.

Originally I had been anticipating using the comparison
tool, which had been Monk’s finest achievement due to the fact that this
program was created to be used as a way of comparing two separate texts. Unfortunately,
when the time came to start developing our phase 2 presentations, it stopped
working. Typically, it is supposed to work like this:

You choose a first workset followed by a second, select the
analysis method you want to explore (frequency comparison is used in the
example above), choose between spelling or lemma (lemma is used in this case)
and finally specify which feature class you are wanting to look up (noun).

The purple displays the most frequently used nouns in Shakespeare’s
tragedies, and then green does the same but with Shakespeare’s comedies.
Although it isn’t shown in the screen shot, once you scroll down there is a
list of white words which shows us the most commonly used words combined
between the two texts being examined. Using this in regards to phase 2 seemed
ideal due to the premise we created, being to compare Hamlet with other
Shakespeare tragedies. But, like I mentioned, it wouldn’t work. Monk would
simply not recognize the worksets I had previously defined, and despite changes
in browsers and login names, it wouldn’t budge. The frustration I was feeling
only seemed logical to direct it at none other than the creators of Monk.
Obviously they had done something wrong, and by not fixing the current issues,
it seemed as though they had abandoned their creation and left the users to
deal with the problems at hand. And then, I read a blog post that changed my
previous opinion, almost entirely…

Discoveries Through Another Perspective

Tara Andrews, author of Codes and Collaborations was able to open my typically stubborn eyes with her take on the perspective often ignored; the problems the creator endures while creating a text analysis program. In the words of Gertrude…


 

 

 

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

Yes, Gertrude, I’d have to agree. It was about time I stopped
complaining, and learned more about the forgotten point of view of the creator.

Andrew’s addresses some of the disheartening moments of failure in
her blog post, stating “For all the ‘Eureka’ moments, there are a hundred moments of wondering why your test is failing now”
and “…the sinking feeling that you have solved this particular annoying data transformation problem three separate ways on four separate occasions”. The author points out that while using this programs is encouraged, it is often worthy of your time
in the long run to learn how to do coding yourself. Not only would it give you
a new found appreciation for all the behind the scenes work that is put in
while making a program, but it would also help you figure out what all can be
discovered through text analysis.

In conclusion…

While I have to say that I am, and will always be an old fashioned gal at heart (at least in
regards to English), throughout this term, I’ve begun to see the actual worth in learning about
and using the Digital Humanities to help me with analyzing texts on a deeper
level. I refuse to let my negative experience with Monk affect how I feel about
text analysis as a whole, because from what I could see from the other programs
we learned about, Monk was the exception when it came to non-useful programs. I felt as though this class was more than just an introductory course on all the Digital Humanities can assist us with. I deeply appreciated the chance to write in a more casual manner than is usually expected in a typical english class. I was educated not only on text analysis, Hamlet, and how to conduct a proper blog post, but I also saw that there is an extreme amount of value in opening your eyes to other ways of approaching a subject which is usually so set in stone, in regards to how it not only taught, but how you interpret it. Taking a look back at the questions I had originally been asking myself, I’d have to say things are much clearer now. I see the benefits in the Digital Humanities as opposed to analyzing texts in previous more traditional ways. Not only is it much faster, but you are able to see things in ways which are much harder to grasp while simply reading a hardcopy of the play.  Is the effort put in by both sides of the party worth it? Does it pay off? I can’t answer this for everybody, but as for the learning aspect, yes. I do believe it pays off. Not to mention it never hurts to expand your knowledge on any given subject. In regards to the creation side, as Tara Andrew’s said, “Understand that the things you want to do are still going to be hard, and forbiddingly time-consuming, without any sort of guarantee that the investment will pay off.” Not exactly uplifting, but it’s a choice people make. I for one, am thankful for those people.

I'll never leave you, old friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Andrews, Tara http://byzantini.st/2012/04/coding-and-collaboration.html

New Perspective via the Integrated Force of Tradition and Digital Tools

Introduction

So, this is my last post for English 203, and instead of sitting here at a loss of words (like I was so often in earlier posts) I find I’ve got so much to say. Digital humanities has enlightened me to so many more possibilities than traditional close reading of texts, giving me new ideas and analyses about and for classical literary texts. But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to completely disregard everything I know about close reading and the pen-in-hand-holding-a-tattered-book method. In contrast, the digital humanities has actually made me appreciate those techniques even more. In my opinion, the traditional and the new should be integrated in order to be most effective, otherwise, I fear the two methods will be locked in their own ways so much that neither will be able to grow. My opinion of this is supported by Metaphorz’s blog post Humanizing Code found on the Digital Humanities Now editor’s choice blog. While he—assuming Metaphorz is a he— discusses using technology and software in accordance with the digital humanities, rather than specifically for designing  digital text analysis tools, the reasons he argues this can be applied to those same tools and their use with close reading skills. Metaphorz blog post highlights that though the digital humanities tools are being created by computers and then given to people, they are not as effective as they could be. He says “there are many differences in our respective theories, and yet, there are bridges opening up” about digital tool designers and digital tool users and their interactions. In his opinion, by keeping software and its tools separate, it prohibits the tool from adapting for the people to better use it. We saw this problem in our class with the way Monk seemed to have been abandoned. In contrast, Aditi’s changes to Wordseer exemplify Metaphorz’s argument for more integration and back and forth between users and designers.

There are “bridges opening up” between readers and digital humanists, just as there are between tool developers and digital humanists. And, similarly, we can see the same issues arising when we try to keep the digital text analysis tools separate from close reading techniques. By using only close reading, a person only gets so far in their analysis, simply because the process is time consuming and strenuous. By using digital tools exclusively, the results we gain are not only incomprehensible, but also hit and miss. Used together, close reading skills and digital tools—like WordHoard—can filter ideas and perspectives towards a unified theme of exploration.

Traditional Method and Hamlet

As I discussed in my earlier post, The Game is Afoot, Hamlet can be read and interpreted as it always has been. In that post, I discuss Ophelia and her apparent suicide, and formulate some ideas about if she is or is not suicidal. To continue to explore this vein of thought using conventional methods, I would have to go back through Hamlet to every scene of Ophelia and determine a change of character within her. Then I would want to compare her behaviour when she is with her father, to her behaviour when he is not around. Using these close readings, I would look at Ophelia’s mind frame and see what type of change there seems to be (assuming of course, there is one, as most people would agree).

Overall, this whole process would be very tedious and use up quite a bit of highlighters and sticky notes and may drive a person into insanity themselves, as I’m sure most people studying English would agree with.

WordHoard and Hamlet

Looking at Hamlet without regard for close reading and just searching randomly on a digital analysis tool, such as WordHoard, give little insight to the play as a whole. For instance, searching “Hamlet” gives 85 results to fish through for what is important/ relevant to what you wish to search. By clicking on each of these entries, you get the context, but not the speaker until you double click and it opens up the whole document of hamlet with your word highlighted. Clicking 85 times would be ridiculous—you could, but it would negate any time saving you gain from using WordHoard rather than by hand.

So, you could randomly click and see who seems to say your word (“Hamlet” in this case) the most frequently, then open a new page in WordHoard to search “Hamlet” again along with that speaker. But this could be misleading if you wanted to see who had the most interaction with Hamlet, so just to be safe, you could search how many times each character says “Hamlet” and then analyse each character’s feelings about Hamlet from there. But getting to this stage purely with digital humanities is difficult, especially if you want to focus on a specific thematic element or event, because, as I’ve already implied, it can be rather hit-and-miss when searching without a solid starting point.

For example, when I open one instance where the word “Hamlet” is said, I get Gertrude saying, “That your good beauties be the happy cause/ Of Hamlet’s wildness” (III, i, 38-39) to Ophelia. This isn’t particularly helpful in figuring out how either Gertrude or Ophelia feel about Hamlet, it only indicates—by the use of the word “wildness”— that by this point (Act 3, scene 1) Hamlet is already going mad, or at least seeming to. Even if a reader had not close read Hamlet before doing this search with WordHoard, I would expect them to already know about Hamlet’s madness. Perhaps it would reveal that the root may have been his love for Ophelia, but I doubt anyone would find this to be accurate if they had read the play.

Another example is in act 4, scene 3 when Claudius is talking to Hamlet about sending him to England. The king says “Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety/ … must send thee hence” (IV, iii, 40-42), and if someone had not read Hamlet, or had just skimmed through it, they may discount this quote as useless, seemingly harmless as it is, or else credit Claudius as having Hamlet’s best interests at heart. This assumption seems quite farfetched, but by only using WordHoard and arbitrary searching and clicking, that is a conclusion someone could draw. Had someone read Hamlet and encountered this quote in a search, they may still disregard it as being unhelpful in determining characters or relationships, but by looking at the context it is in, you can see how Hamlet is in fact playing with the king while the king is attempting to manipulate Hamlet—a much more complicated situation than someone uninformed would believe it to be.

Not only is it a hit-and-miss technique (especially with WordHoard), but it is frustrating to work without a good idea of where you want to go/ what you want to be looking for. Even if it turns out there is nothing to find, it is better to start with an idea than to just plunge into analyzing a text like Hamlet without something to go from, as Dayna discusses in her post Unlocking the Mystery that is WordHoard. I agree with her because, as she says, the design of the digital tool WordHoard is such that you need to know what you’re searching to be able to fill in all the fields and create a more narrow focus of information you receive. Otherwise, as with my earlier search of “Hamlet”, you get too many results to navigate effectively and which take many circuitous routes to narrow down.

Traditional Reading with WordHoard

Through my personal experiences with WordHoard, I have come to the conclusion that it, and the other text analysis tools used in our class, works best when in combination with close reading skills. By employing close reading skills initially, you can best form an idea about what you want to analyze and how you want to do so. As I discussed in my second post, Battle with WordHoard? Challenge Accepted—in agreement with Dayna’s post Unlocking the Mystery that is WordHoard—WordHoard needs specifics to deal with. You have to have read your text close enough to have a formulated idea to explore, as well as a plan for how to explore that idea. WordHoard challenges its user to think about how best to problem solve—you can’t search for tone or metaphor, only words. So you have to have read your text and know what type of language is used in order to be able to search words that appear in the text. WordHoard can isolate specific characters when they speak, and also show you the context and person to whom they are speaking, but it needs a focus to garner meaningful results. This takes WordHoard maybe two minutes to compile—by hand it would take several hours to mark where an individual speaks and then make up a list of what they said and to whom, etc. WordHoard brings this up immediately, allowing you to get more results faster. But then we must to back to close reading to interpret these findings accurately. Again, WordHoard is helpful here because it shows the sentence the word you searched appears in, and allows you to click the sentence to get the exact page to show up so you can read the context before and after. Close reading of this context can not only provide you with other search options/ ideas for exploration, but also allows you to more easily distinguish if results yielded by WordHoard are false positives or negatives. Once you’ve got results (positive or negative) you have to then employ your close reading skills again and check the validity of your results. Perhaps you have false positives and need to double check the context or way in which the word was used—as Shakespearian use of language is different from our own, the word “love” could be used to describe the emotion or a character’s feelings, or merely be used as an expression. Or else, you may have a false negative  if you are searching for words that are synonyms to what are actually used in the text or describe a common metaphor but are not present in that metaphor.

Conclusion

So, as I found in my post The Game is Afoot, traditional close reading of a test like Hamlet only gets you so far and can lead to much frustration because of the time consuming nature of this traditional method. But, using a digital tool such as WordHoard on its own or with minimal close reading employed also gives way to the same limitations. As Metaphorz says in his blog post “Acknowledging our differences, let’s step back and look at our similarities”. While close reading and digital tools encounter similar problems in finding difficulty focusing, they also possess a similarity of purpose. Both are methods of interpreting and analyzing a given text, and can help each other with coming to a conclusion. They work toward a common endpoint with different tools and so complement each other’s findings. What I’m trying to say is that neither close reading or digital tools are infallible in analyzing a text. You need to be able to use them both in conjunction as a give-and-take method to get the best out of each and to (possibly) uncover a new perspective. Both traditional methods and new face the same problem of filtering out extraneous details, but when used together, they complement each other’s weak points and work to narrow searches and ideas into a cohesive point.

Exploring the Traditional

During this semester friends and family frequently asked what I was studying in English.  I knew that the response “digital humanities” would mean nothing to them, much as it had meant nothing to me until a few months ago.  I could explain that the field of digital humanities is an innovative method for textual analysis, which utilizes computer based tools to research pieces of literature, but that explanation is a bit wordy.  In the end I just responded with “Hamlet,” at least that they can understand.

Specifically, my English 203 class used the five digital tools, Monk, Wordhoard, TAPoR, Voyant, and WordSeer to study William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  These tools perform a variety of functions, from compiling word frequency lists, to identifying specific words, nouns and adjectives, to using complex algorithms to classify a text.  This method of research is both fast and easy.  With a click of the button, I can find all instances of the word “death” in Hamlet.  With two more clicks, I can look at that word in the context of all of Shakespeare’s plays.

During the course of my studies, I began to wonder as to the future of the Humanities.  Will high school students read Romeo and Juliette through a series of charts and graphs, as opposed to worn paper copies? As a book lover, the thought of losing the art of reading is scary, but this new method of digital scholarship is not without its advantages.  Digital analysis broadens the area of research by compressing information, while also allowing humanists to observe qualities of a text that cannot be found through traditional reading and analysis.

On the other hand, the computer is imperfect and lacks the understanding of a human reader.  For instance, it is difficult for programs like WordSeer to recognize the different lemma’s of a word.  Likewise, the computer cannot make qualitative assumptions about a text, such as the tone or mood.  Thus, the results of digital analysis have the potential to skew one’s interpretation of literature.  Without a thorough understanding of elements like plot, characters and setting, graphs and charts have little meaning for the casual observer.  In this method of digital analysis, it is still important to read a text to comprehend the themes and context of the literature.  Only then can one create questions for further analysis.  Thus, the digital humanities is a method of study to be used in conjunction with traditional analyses to expand the field of research and test established hypotheses.   

 

The Pros and Cons of Exploratory Analysis

Aditi Muralidharan is the developer of the text analysis program WordSeer.  Aditi’s program integrates the works of Shakespeare for analysis using a variety of visualization tools, such as heat maps, concordance diagrams, and frequency graphs.  These tools aid the user in what Aditi calls “exploratory analysis.”  In her blog post, “Men and Women in Shakespeare,” Aditi addresses the question, “How does the portrayal of men and women in Shakespeare’s plays change under different circumstances?” Using this question as her guide, Aditi exercises “exploratory analysis.”  This term essentially means establishing a hypothesis based on investigation with the digital tool.  In other words, Aditi is using WordSeer as a hypothesis-generating tool.

Taken from Aditi's blog

"Possessed by his" on the left; "possessed by her" on the right.

Aditi begins by searching words that are “possessed by” both “his” and “her.”  In general, she found the language referencing women to be more “physical,” because of its association with male family members and body parts, including “hand” and “heart.”  A comparison to “his” showed a similar occurrence with the addition of “sentimental” abstractions, like “life” and “favor.”  Closer examination with heat maps led Aditi to the conclusion that body parts are more prevalent in histories than tragedies, but family relations is unchanged across the two categories.  Therefore she created a hypothesis that body parts have a greater role in plays where love is a prevalent theme, as they are often a symbol of a character’s affections.

Though this hypothesis has merit, it is a very general observation of all plays.  When applying the exact same search to a specific text like Hamlet, the results stray slightly from Aditi’s hypothesis.

"Possessed by his" in the Full text of Hamlet.

"Possessed by her" in the full text of Hamlet.

One immediately notices that family members are still common possessed objects in both genders.  However, in the “possessed by her” results, body parts are not as common as they were in Aditi’s search.  They are still present, but mentioned only a few times.  Furthermore, these body parts differ from the initial “eyes,” “lips,” “cheeks”, and “face” that Aditi searched, as they include “bosom,” “neck” and “waist.”  As such, these new words were excluded in her heat map search, causing Hamlet to fall under the “not-love” category of plays.  However, as one who has already read the play extensively, I am aware that love is, in fact, a major theme within Hamlet.

As a reader, I can then find a broader range of data than Aditi found with her general approach.  For instance, there are only two females in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia.  As such, these women are referred to as “her” very little, because they are present in the majority of the scenes.  An example of this is when Hamlet and Gertrude are alone in the closet scene of act 3.4.  In this scene, the possessive pronoun “your” is often used by Hamlet, but not to complement Gertrude’s beauty or proclaim his love.  As I talk about in my second blog post, this informal address by Hamlet is actually a method of insulting Gertrude, and therefore body parts are not used in association with Hamlet’s love and affection for his mother.

"Possessed by your" search of only act 3.4.

A “possessed by your” search of act 3.4 immediately shows a larger variety of words than the “possessed by her” search.  In this instance, we see the presence of words like “hand” and “heart,” but the context of these words does not insinuate love.  For example, after killing Polonius, Hamlet says to his mother, “Leave wringing of your hands.  Peace, sit you down/And let me wring your heart” (3.4.32-33).  In this instance, “hands” and “heart” are not indicative of love, but of Gertrude’s conscious.  Consequently, Hamlet’s motive is to change the subject away from Polonius’ death, and accuse her of contributing to King Hamlet’s death.  These body parts in context have little correlation with love and therefore do not fit with Aditi’s hypothesis.

This example is not to say the Aditi’s method of exploratory analysis is ineffective, for it does have a place in digital humanities.  I am simply suggesting using traditional methods of comprehension and annotation to guide digital searches, rather than progressing from computer generated results to text annotation and hypothesis.

 

Expanding on the Traditional (From Close reading to Digital Analysis)

Traditional analysis through close reading is a focused and unbiased way for an individual to begin working with a text.  As seen in the picture above, I will write questions and observations in the margins while I am reading.  I will also make note of rhetorical devices, unusual word choices or significant lines.  This annotation is my way of getting to know Hamlet, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of plot, characters and themes within the story.  Through close reading, I create questions and observations which I then use as a guide when working with the digital tools, thus expanding my research in an effective manner.

My team members and I used this approach in phase two while analyzing act five of Hamlet.  With our annotated copies of the text and our understanding of the play, we noticed a number of comedic aspects to Hamlet that conflicted with the tragic genre of the play.  Particularly in act five, the characters of Osric and the gravedigger are very comedic in nature.  Hamlet says of the gravedigger, “We must/speak by the card or equivocation will undo us” (5.1.129-130), because the gravedigger makes many puns during his banter with Hamlet.   Likewise, Osric uses an absurd pattern of speech by excessively addressing Hamlet as “lord” and “lordship” (5.2.76, 80, 83, 86).  As a reader, I recognize these men as clown-like figures.  Knowing that that the final act is often where tragedy culminates, I then find it their presence in act five very unusual.

To further investigate these comedic attributes, I divided the final act into four parts. On each part, I then used the “List Words” tool in TAPoR to determine word frequencies (See my Blog Post).  Using my background knowledge of Hamlet, I objectively analyzed the results.  I determined that the comedic relief is concentrated in the middle of the act, as there are a higher number of comedic words used in the dialogue of part two and three.  Through a knowledge gained by reading Hamlet, I identified comedic characters and created an effective research method to further my investigation and test my assumptions.

During phase two our group also came to the realization that the digital tools are sometimes inaccurate. For instance April, as our resident MONK expert, used the classification toolset of MONK to classify the genre of Hamlet in comparison to other Shakespearean plays (April’s blog post).  However, the results she received were inconsistent with our knowledge of the play. Paige further investigated (Paige’s blog post) using Wordhoard and determined that many of the words that MONK used to classify genres were not present in Hamlet at all.  Thus our group was able to rule out the inaccurate results that could taint our analysis of the act.

 

Combining Exploratory and Traditional Analysis

Though our work in phase two was largely text based, we did use Aditi’s method of exploratory analysis to compare Hamlet to other Shakespearean tragedies.  Dane used a very similar search to Aditi’s while investigating the tragic genre during our presentation (Slide 9 ).  In his search, Dane used the heat map function of WordSeer to visualize the words “villain,” “kill,” “hate” and “death” in the fifth act of Hamlet and three other tragedies, including Othello, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus.

Order of plays from left to right: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Titus Adronicus.

Though these words are very general, Dane chose them because he thought they were particularly representative of the tragic genre, as based on Aristotle’s definition.  Interestingly enough, the combination of these four words occur less often in the fifth act of Hamlet than they do across the other fifth acts of different plays.

Dane’s search was a great way to begin our analysis of the fifth act because it reinforced our hypothesis that the fifth act does not completely fit the definition of a tragedy.  Dane’s exploratory analysis tested what we already assumed about the act from reading.  From that point on, we could look at the specific reasons as to why Hamlet does not resemble other Shakespearean Tragedies, so our research remained focused.

Dane’s search is just one example of how an individual’s results would influence the rest of the group.  Often another team’s blog posts would inspire new questions, or ideas for further investigation.  This ability to collaborate is a strength of the digital humanities.  One does not have to travel far to discover what a colleague is working on and contribute to their research.

 

Conclusion

Before this class I had already read Hamlet twice, and I was not looking forward to studying it again.  However, analyzing Hamlet through a computer offered an entire new perspective on the traditional story.  By using digital tools I identified nuances of diction that I previously overlooked.  By breaking down the complex tale of revenge, love and deceit in Hamlet, I realized the importance of the words themselves.  The words chosen by Shakespeare and the frequency of select words took on an entire new level of importance.  They defined compliment and insult, as well as comedy and tragedy.  Without these tools I would have been unable to make such discoveries, but my skills as a reader were also invaluable.  Like any good scientist, my group members and I read Hamlet, and had a thorough understanding of elements in the text before we conducted searches with our digital tools.  Therefore it was easier to test our hypotheses because we had a focused approach, and the ability to identify significant factors in our results, while excluding the inaccurate.  Sometimes our findings contradicted, but often the results of a team member would spur new question and new searches.  Thus, with our knowledge of the text, we expanded into new avenues of understanding while reinforcing what we knew.

 

Works Cited

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

Technology vs. Literature: An Insight into the Digital Humanities

After this brief window of intense use of the tools that the Digital Humanities offers, I feel I have become quite opinionated on the field itself.  It should be taken into consideration that my time with the Digital Humanities has only spanned the last two months, and that the majority of that focus has been to one tool (some time was spent using other tools, which I found to be the most exciting, but I will get to that later).  So how is it that I can form a valid argument that is either for or against this field? The answer is that I can only really asses the situation and experience that I had with these tools, and hope that my opinions can be thought upon as different and insightful.

Initial Thoughts…

I admit that my apprehension of this field could have persuaded my opinion.  When first introduced to the Digital Humanities my immediate reaction was such – ‘what was wrong with the good old fashioned reading and annotating?’.  I did not want to give up on the classic method; I enjoy talking with my peers about what happened in a scene and I enjoy developing theories about the characters based on their lines and actions.  But if the tools could help me learn more about the characters, then why should I not make the most of them?

As I began working with my assigned tool I quickly came to the realization that Monk was not letting me do what I wanted it to do, or rather, it was not giving me the results that I wanted.  As seen in my first blog post I was extremely frustrated.  Why could the computer not do what I wanted it to do? Isn’t this what the Digital Humanities is supposed to do for me?  Essentially, why isn’t my experience with the digital humanities giving me more insight to my literary study of Hamlet?  I was under the impression that this tool, among others, was going to help me.  But after Phase 1, I just wanted to throw my computer against the wall, pick up my copy of Hamlet and read!

Once I got the Phase 2 I attempted to be more open minded to the potential of the collaboration of Monk with other tools (such as WordSeer, WordHoard, Voyeur and Tapor).  I admit that I was pleased with the results that  I was getting from the other tools, once my teammate Dayna showed me how to use WordHoard, I found myself often resorting to that tool to answer the majority of my questions.  One of my favorite aspects of WordHoard was that when I searched a word, I got with it the speaker and context of the play (something Monk did not offer me).  This was perfect for my team’s plan of action that which was focused on character development.  So alright Digital Humanities, I will give you that one.

But, as interesting as I found our results to be in Phase 2, and yes I will recognize the fact that some of the results that we got we would not be able to have discovered by just reading Hamlet, I am still unwilling to put all my eggs in one basket.  As much as the digital humanities can help me gain new knowledge about Hamlet, it is also taking away my personal insight into the text.  When I search the word madness into lets say Wordseer’s search engine in hopes to determine whether Hamlet is mad or not, I am essentially not trusting my own reading of the text.

Allow Me To Elaborate…

That last statement may have been a bit extreme, but I find it necessary to make such a claim in order to get my point across.  In working with these tools I found that I became too trusting in their results.  Instead of making my own conclusions about Hamlet’s sanity based simply on what I had read, I was now allowing a program to tell me that this theory was either correct or incorrect, based on the data that I had inputed into the search engine, or just it’s own database.  Now hold on a minute.  Aren’t I an English major? I thought that the whole point of being in this department was to talk and write about our readings, not put it into a computer and have to analyze the data that it spat out at me.  I understand that the Digital Humanities can allow more insight into a text, I will not deny that, but I feel that as a literary lover the action of reading a text must be preserved.  And that the conclusions drawn from the simple act of reading a text must not be deemed as wrong or inconclusive.  Just because I came to the conclusion that Hamlet is sane based on my own personal reading of the play and not from Monk or Voyeur’s results, does not mean that the conclusion should not be trusted.

Essentially, I believe that there should be a balance between the digital humanities and the old fashioned literary studies and that the digital humanities should not be considered the saving grace of literary studies.

This coincides with Ted Underwood’s blog post properly titled “why digital humanities isn’t actually ‘the next thing in literary studies’ ”.  Here Ted describes that the digital humanities should not be the “. . . answer to the question “How should we save literary studies?” ”.  Ted addresses this topic by suggesting that the literary studies do not need to be saved, or rather, the survival of the profession need not depend on the digital humanists.  Based on his argument it seems that they are quick to assume that the digital humanities are the saving grace of literary studies.  But as Ted points out, this is not really their battle.  For one thing the digital humanities can not be the be all end all of this academia crisis because it is not a “movement within literary studies”.  In fact, Ted goes as far to deem the field as extra-disciplinary, saying it includes “historians and linguists, computer scientists and librarians”.  If the digital humanities are not just focusing on english literature, then it should not be expected to be the saving grace of this field.  Ted goes on to explain that the digital humanists are not exactly avoiding the problem in the academia world, but they are doing it in a different way.  They are in fact “rethinking peer review and scholarly publishing” and are trying to get across that when thinking about academia, we must think of it as a “social institution”.  So overall, the digital humanities can help with the revival of literary studies, but we should not be assuming that it is the next best thing.  By associating the digital humanities with the “health and survival of the profession” we must not forget about where we cam from, and what makes literary studies so great in the first place.

My Exploration and Doubts…

One of the main things that I noticed when I began working extensively with these tools was that I was creating questions that I wanted the tools to answer.  These questions were not just some that I made up on the spot, they were based on the text that I had read.  So really if I had not read Hamlet, I would not have been able to come up with questions such as – ‘based on the language used, is it possible to tell if Gertrude’s feelings towards her son changes from Act 1 Scene 2 to Act 3 Scene 4?’, or, ‘based on the language that Claudius uses in his first monologue in the play, Act 1 Scene 2, and his soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 3, how does he really feel about his brother?’.  I used both of these questions in my part of the Phase 2 project simply because I had never really done any type of research into the King and the Queen.  I wanted to learn more about their characters, based on what I had originally read in the text.  Granted I will give credit where credit’s due; WordHoard did give me some interesting results when I searched the word brother in Claudius’ monologue and soliloquy:

 

Yes, WordHoard was able the isolate the instances that I wanted to study.  But once this moments in the play have been isolated, it still is depending on me to come the conclusions based on my interpretation of these results. In my second screenshot I see that the word brother can be associated with the word guilt (seen on line 40).  But I have come to that conclusion based on reading that part of the text.  As much as this tool (and others) can reveal to me, it is still up to my ‘literary mind’ to process, interpret and create arguments and conclusions based on the results.

And really how different is that, from this?

 

In The End…

I would like to conclude by saying that I am not wholeheartedly against the entire field of digital humanities; that it should be thrown away and forgotten.  Instead, I am trying to suggest that we create a balance between its use, and our reading. I have enjoyed learning about the digital humanities and what they can potentially offer, but I am unwilling to give up my hard copy of Hamlet just yet.  I hope that my harsh judgement of the digital humanities (especially Monk) has not turned people off of the digital humanities.  I just that in order to get my point across “I must be cruel only to be kind” (Hamlet, 4.1.181).  As much as the digital humanities can offer, we must not throw away our texts, and we should not expect this field to be the saving grace of literary studies.  As Ted Underwood says “the ‘digital humanities’ is the name of an opportunity . . . . the meaning of the opportunity is going to depend on what we make of it”.

 

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Robert S. Miola. New York: Norton, 2011. Print.

The Bridge Over Troubled (Digital Humanities) Waters

My Evolving Perspective

Four months ago, I thought I had a sense of how one usually studies a work of Shakespeare: you read the text, read all the footnotes, occasionally pull out the highlighter or scribble some notes down here and there.  After completing English 203, it’s safe to say that I really can’t imagine going back to studying a Shakespearean text by only doing a close reading of the text.

I’ve now been exposed to this new, exciting concept of digital humanities, and in my mind things can go nowhere but up from here.  I’m not trying to be cheesy when I say this, but digital humanities genuinely gets me excited about studying a Shakespearean text.  Although we are still at the beginning stages of this form of study, I truly believe it has so much potential for the future.  I used to almost dread studying a new Shakespearean play because I would usually read the whole thing and often need a lot of external help to grasp the main concepts.  I would borrow study guides from the library, watch the films, everything.  But now with digital humanities tools and the masses of opinions and findings posted online, I can tap into a vast ocean of information that can further my learning effectively with a few clicks of the mouse.

Movement vs. Extension?

Many scholars such as Ted Underwood and Feisal Mohamed have begun to argue, however, that “digital humanities is not a movement” but a “natural extension of the work that bibliographers have always done”. You can find a list of articles and different opinions on this subject by going to Digital Humanities As A Literary Studies Movement: Editors Choice Round-Up. I agree with the statements made by Underwood and Mohamed.  Just because we now have the technological ability to obtain all sorts of data from a text, it does not mean we should completely abandon the text as a whole or forget where the text came from in the first place. We also now have the ability to share our findings online with the world. Mohamed touches more on the role of digital humanities in his blog post, “Can There Be a Digital Humanism?” and I would like to use the rest of this blog post to express my feelings in response to his opinions on this subject and also share what I think the role of digital humanities should look like based on my experiences with it in English 203.

I just wanted to add a comment here about how much the internet truly is affecting humanities. As you can see above, there are at least five different ways in which you can read or respond to Mohamed’s thoughts. These social networking outlets like blogging, Facebook, and Twitter allow so many more minds to be connected and thoughts about humanities to be shared to a wider audience through the power of the internet.

Back to the article, Mohamed speaks in agreement with Underwood in saying that digital humanities is not a movement because “it does not offer to reshape the ideas that we carry into our reading of texts and cultures; it offers instead a new and powerful set of tools available to a broad range of existing critical approaches”.

The Tools of Focus for English 203:

  1. WordHoard
  2. WordSeer
  3. TapOr
  4. Voyeur
  5. Monk

The concepts that we base our hypotheses off of when applying tools such asthese to a play such as Hamlet are not brand new concepts.  The tools do not magically reveal themes to us if we have no prior context or understanding of the play.  These plays have been studied and analyzed for many, many years, and without the help of digital humanities tools such as these.  The sudden incorporation of digital humanities tools should not determine the thoughts we have while reading these original texts, but simply help enhance our understandings and reach further in what we already know.

Our Method in Applying the Online Tools

We decided as a group during Phase 2 of the course that we would each pick a character from Hamlet and use our tools in a collaborative fashion to learn more about them.  I analyzed the Ghost’s character, which was a challenge with WordHoard alone, as I was the so-called WordHoard “expert”, but I was able to use in in combination with the other tools to help me. You can read about what I found in my post here.

For example, analyzing Hamlet by hand versus by, say, WordHoard is not impossible but the time consumption it would take to find every instance the word “mad” is used in the play is exponential compared to the 3.2 seconds it takes WordHoard to do it. It also gives me the context of every instance of the word, so I can read the direct quotes relating to Hamlet’s madness instantly such as Polonius’ quote “that he is mad, tis true” (2.2.97) and Gertrude’s infamous realization, “Alas! He’s mad!” (3.4.106). I talk more about using WordHoard’s efficient word-finding abilities for my study of Hamlet in my blog post here. We are living in a new century of efficiency and convenience, and digital humanities is only building on that, extending the processes that scholars have been using for the past century and enhancing it. It’s just like an automatic door; there’s no reason we couldn’t open the door ourselves, as people have been doing for centuries, but technology has advanced in our world today so that we don’t have to manually do as much.  This of course not necessary, but it’s the world we have grown accustomed to.

Applying the Digital Humanities “Bridge” to the Study of Hamlet

No matter how much data a tool can deliver, it is the human mind that makes the connections and helps create a bridge between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the tool.  With Hamlet, one has to understand the story before plugging in words or drawing out data from the tools to get results that are of quality interest.

This was something my group learned first hand while analyzing the play and I believe it is a perfect example of why digital humanities is more of a natural extension than a movement.  We had all read Hamlet prior to working with the online tools, so we had some ideas about what we wanted to use the tools for. My group member who was studying Horatio found something with her tool, WordSeer, that she had never noticed while simply reading the text.  It showed her Horatio was related to the word “overlooked”.

She took this as a sign that Horatio must have been overlooked in the play, which would in any other context would be a rational assumption.  I had had a lot of success in finding informative details about Hamlet by simply searching certain words and seeing how many times they occurred and where they occurred in the play with WordHoard.  I helped her use WordHoard to search the word “friend” spoken by Hamlet and see how many times he referred to Horatio as a friend, continuing with the idea of Horatio being overlooked.

She gathered the numbers and information she needed, which you can read about in her post here, and used it to prove her hypothesis in our final presentation.  The problem that arose, however, was that we trusted WordSeer as a tool to tell us too much.  The hypothesis she had became discredited when the WordSeer developer, Aditi, and Dr. Ullyot pointed out that the context of the word “overlooked” was not in the way that she had assumed when obtaining her results.

The tools gave her a false impression about the word “overlooked”, and the only way she could have known for sure what the true meaning and context was was to go back to the original text and read it for herself.  I decided to use WordHoard to see exactly what the context of the word “overlooked” was in the play and found the quote to be Horatio reading a letter to himself from Hamlet, it reading “Horatio, when thou shalt have overlooked this, give these fellows some means to the king” (4.6.11).  In my Norton Shakespeare Anthology, there is a footnote on the word “overlooked” and it says it is another word for “read”.  It’s amazing to me that by simply taking things back to the actual book, such confusion could have been easily avoided.

She finishes off a reply to Aditi and Dr. Ullyot after our presentation with a quote that couldn’t be more true: “I suppose this is the first lesson of the Digital Humanities: ALWAYS be sure you are using reliable sources before getting excited!“ I can’t think of a better first hand example displaying the issue Mohamed raises in his blog post than this.

Concluding Thoughts

We directly experienced the importance of the bridge between the human mind and the digital, quantitative aspect of the tools.  We cannot simply trust the computer to tell us what to think.  It can gives us information that allows us to further understand what we already know, but it cannot operate the other way around.  It is a little bit scary to see what the tools are capable of and what problems they could cause in the future.  Writing is an art form, it needs to be understood and interpreted with proper context, and without that one can get a completely false impression about what the text what saying.  This is why we must use this new concept of digital humanities as a stepping-stone, and way to enhance our analysis, rather than abandoning the very text it was originally based on.  To once again quote Mohamed in his blog post, “digital humanities projects often say that they are innovating the way we investigate texts and cultures, though that innovation arises from a set of technological tools rather than an intellectual position” and to that he adds that “the kind of humanism that seems to me to be most valuable at present is that which fully disarticulates innovation and progress; which makes visible the limits of the ideology surrounding technology.” Computers can do incredible things, but they cannot be compared to the human mind.

Again, I do not want to come across as cheesy when discussing my new-found interest in the digital humanities world, but I genuinely believe I learned a lot this semester in English 203.  I was exposed to a whole new aspect of studying literature that I previously had no clue existed, and I am leaving this course hoping to continue my use of digital humanities as an aid my future literary studies.  As my group learned first hand, I am aware that one cannot solely depend on these new digital humanities tools to get you through a course about Shakespeare, or any other text for that matter, but I am 100% certain that collaborating my base knowledge of the original text with these online tools helped me understand way more about Hamlet than I ever would have by only doing a close-reading of the text.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Norton Shakespeare Essential Plays and Sonnets. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2009. Print.

Final Post

Ready, Set, GO

As a traditional reader, one is able to certainty pick up on thematic clusters, interactions, structure and so on, but it isn’t until you start using digital tools, where you are absolutely able to see both qualitative and quantitative occurrences, such as repetition of words and or various references to God for example. Digital tools take the best of both worlds, and slot them together.  So to summarize my argument, I strongly conclude that digital tools are the future, providing aspects of traditional readings whether it be through creating a hypothesis or by gaining qualitative and or quantitative information. However, the combination between digital tools and traditional reading is the most complete way to analyze a text.

The Beginning

Thinking back to the beginning of the semester in January seems like it was forever ago, but it was the beginning of my digital humanities journey. Coming from the lands of computers, blogging, and the creation of internet pages, I could not have ever imagined all the possibilities such tools could offer to enhance my understanding of Hamlet. My initial thoughts were “Professor Ullyot, how could you combine Shakespeare, who literally has a language of his own, with digital tools?”  Was this possibly the most awkward/ complicated combination ever? No it wasn’t, if anything it was a genius move. One thing I learned about reading Hamlet in two different semesters, as I mentioned in my other blog was that reading Hamlet isn’t as straight forward as picking up Harry Potter, and connecting the dots as the story unravels.  Hamlet is a text that one must actively read, while physically connecting the dots via notes in the margins. I did do this in the fall semester; however, I did not dive into the text and ask questions that were deeper than the surface. Or in other words, my interest didn’t lie in creating a hypothesis and making conclusions with solid evidence. While reading traditionally, repetition occurred, God references were used, and various tones were apparent throughout the text, but my questions were: “who cares and why does this matter?”. Through the use of digital tools, I learned that in fact these questions, references, and instances of repetition Shakespeare uses, are important to the text. If anything, they are the most interesting aspects of the text.

For example, although these are not the most interesting results, this tool from TAPoR pulls out names (or capital letters to be more correct) like Mars, Mercury and God. The way that this tool is capable of doing this, may for some reiterate important ideas or references, perhaps like Christianity for example.

Traditional Reading Benefits

  1. You can always trust the book as a correct source
  2. Structure is easily identified i.e.) line, sentence structure, interruptions
  3. Thematic clusters can be determined i.e.) body parts: head, heart
  4. Interactions can be determined i.e.) statements, questions, and answers
  5. Tone and performance is evident i.e.) is a character giving advice? Or is he angry?
  6. Figures of speech: metaphors, similes, double meanings

 

Flaws of the Tools

In order to use digital tools, you need to be smarter than the computer. Yes, the computer is a fast worker, but its brains do not equal the power of its user. Therefore, you must know what you are looking for, and at times you may need to question your results.  During phase 2, it was not until I compared my findings with other results from different tools (Monk, WordHoard, TAPoR, and WordSeer), that I really learned the downfalls to Voyeur. Quite often, Voyeur could not find words that certainly did appear in the text and in other tools.  The most frustrating example I had of this was found when searching for the word tongue in phase two in act 3. Voyeur told me 0 results, BUT I physically saw the word tongue with my own eyes in the text, and other tools were showing results of these occurrences. Here are three occurrences within act 3, where voyeur apparently was not recognizing any of them. Cool.

 

The work of Monk

More downfalls…

  1. Error messages are common
  2. Different versions of the text(s) can change your results
  3. Shakespeare’s language versus modern language = problem
  4. Tools search exactly what you type

 

Discovery

Warwick writes “the digital medium allows for a more inclusive approach to academic research, whereby users …become part of the process of discovery and interpretation”. Warwick’s words are exactly right, when your chosen tool is willing to work with its user and provide its user with correct results. Digital tools do not give you answers without work, it gives you data. Digital tools, Voyeur in particular, works as a hypothesis generator as a beginning step towards success. This is the beginning of your process of discovery. Right away by just looking at the visual word cloud you are able to see the words that occur most often: HMLT, Lord, love, play, and make. Or if you are a person who is more number orientated like I am, you could use the frequency chart, where numbers are listed by the most frequent used words.

While looking at the frequency chart for act 3, I’ve been given quantitative evidence: love is a word that occurs most (23 times) in act 3.  Although this is an evident theme a traditional reader could have easily pulled out after reading Hamlet, we must remember that we are only in the stage of constructing a hypothesis, where Warwick writes “users of digital resources do know what they need and if they don’t find it they will not use things that are unfit for their needs”.  In other words, digital users will keep looking until they are able to collect the evidence, whether it is qualitative or quantitative data, to make a conclusion. By keep looking, I mean these tools are not capable of pulling out the differences between how the word love is used. Hamlet states, “I did love you once” (3.1. 114) when speaking to Ophelia as way to express an emotion that was once there. In the play put on by the Players, you read “you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife” (3.2.256). Yes, love is mentioned, but it is not really used in the context of an individual expressing love as an emotion to another individual.  Depending on what a user of digital tools was looking for, the quantitative data could distract you from coming to a correct assumption about love in the play. There are many other occurrences where this issue was present.  Hamlet/ Shakespeare uses the words honest and fair to question Ophelia, when in modern day, these terms are used very differently.  See my blog post for a further explanation and dictionary definitions.

Traditional Questions

With traditional reading though, what would one do with the theme love? We could use qualitative evidence to compare the different types of love? Or analyze how Hamlet uses the word love? Is he really in love with Ophelia? Regardless of the direction one may choose, I feel like a conclusion can be reached, but the so what factor is missing. Why not take your hypothesis to the next level and use frequencies, visuals and chart comparisons to deepen your analysis?

Making Progress

Since we were using digital tools, I decided that it wouldn’t make sense to go to the text we used in class to look for information, and then put it into my program. I tried to stay dedicated to digital tools. Luckily, my tool Voyeur allowed for me to maintain my dedication. Voyeur provides a corpus reader, which is practically the text itself. For some tools, this is where there was some disconnect.  Most other tool users could not a) read an entire act, scene, or play b) modify their text and or c) take their data, and achieve visual results. I believe most students will agree that tools are great for quantitative data, but Voyeur is much different. It combines the best of both worlds like mentioned above. (To be honest, the second half of the semester my text book of Hamlet sat collecting dust). Voyeur was, however, beneficial in the way that I could modify Hamlet to either include, or exclude things that were tainting my data. For example, one of the biggest downfalls to Voyeur was the fact that speakers could not be separated from their names being mentioned. In other words, this was ruining my quantitative data, by making it seem like Hamlet was mentioned 100 times, when over 75% of the Hamlet occurrences was when he was speaking.  TAPoR, however, was the tool which was responsible for gathering when characters spoke.  By separating character’s lines via TAPoR, then putting my information into Voyeur, it was much easier to analyze each character’s word choices, emotions (qualitative) and frequencies (quantitative) and or information.

Voyeur- Results are tainted because the file has not been edited

 

Because Voyeur offered the ability to read the text through the corpus reader, I was able to gain both qualitative and quantitative occurrences, which I don’t think was something I could have necessarily gained through traditional reading on its own.  Although I wasn’t able to “make notes on a piece of paper, doodle, fold it up and carry” Voyeur with me, like Warwick states when she compares traditional texts with digital humanities, the information I was able to drag out of Voyeur was something beyond any traditional reader could gain alone.

Corpus Reader - Just like a book ...

 

The conclusions I came to, as seen in my blog, was a combination of reading through the corpus gaining qualitative and quantitative information, then submitting it into the program to further analyze the qualitative data. Even though I was randomly typing in words, checking their frequencies and looking for connections, this would have been completely impossible through traditional reading. Again, I know this because the first time around reading Hamlet, these themes were overlooked, probably due to the complexity the story line or language.  First I noticed that Shakespeare makes references to body parts, for example “go, go, you question with a wicked tongue” (3.4.10), or compares words to daggers, “I will speak daggers to her but use none” (3.2.386).  By slowly typing in each word in search bar that was a part of the body, my phase two group was able to make the theme of our presentation based on senses (eyes, hearing, and speaking/ tongue). Finding this information was new to me. I never would have been able to make the connection between all of the senses, if I did not break down act three, and draw connections through the frequency occurrences.  I think by slotting information into a program allows you to slow down and analyze it in a way you never would. Like mentioned above, without the use of numbers or data to prove your point, the so what factor occurs. I strongly believe that with the help of digital tools, you are able to fill the so what void. It is like science. You make a hypothesis, but until you prove your hypothesis with data and results, it is invalid and useless.

Traditional vs. Digital

I believe that a reader could easily create a hypothesis, compare themes, words and references without the use of digital tools.  However, I strongly believe that with the help of digital tools, their speed, frequency lists, and visuals, can provide that extra bit of information that can take understanding and learning to entire new level. A computer or a digital tool, as we know, is smart, but not as smart as its user. Tools are full of flaws that can often taint our understanding if further investigation is not taken. In Warwick’s blog, she quotes Helen Chatergee who does work at UCL Museums and “suggests that when we handle real objects, different parts of our brains respond than when we see a digital surrogate”. It does not specify how the brain responds differently, but the fact that this quote states that it does, demonstrates that both digital tools and traditional reading used together could provide the most useful results. At least this way, our brains are responding differently to each method to gain a complete picture.

 

Works Cited

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

Warwick, Claire  http://clairewarwick.blogspot.ca/2012/01/inaugural-lecture.html

 

Concluding on My Introductory Experience in the Digital Humanities

Introductory Conclusions

As an english major, a lover of the literary, historical, and symbolic, I walked away with a celebratory slide, from anything that involved numbers in any shape or form. I suppose in my mind it was a celebratory slide, however to my math, physics, and chemistry teachers, it must have resembled something of a frantic scrambling flee for the door. This is, I think, something that the majority of my fellow classmates in ENGL203 can attest to; The mistrust of anything that would take a piece of literature and suggest, ” sometimes, a river is just a river.The river moves with this speed, this velocity, because the water demonstrates this amount of viscosity, and it moves in this direction.” As students of the literary,  I suppose in response we would go on our rants and tangents of the river representing a winding and continuous process of life. My point here, is that there has been an innate and inherent hatred for some of us, if not most of us, towards the mathematical and statistical aspects of the world, and how those aspects take away from the symbolic values that have been metaphorically scattered throughout the universe.

Throughout the course of ENGL203 however, in the midst of my introduction into the world of the Digital Humanities, my understandings of the statistical, quantitative aspects of the literary text such as Hamlet, has consequently enriched my qualitative findings of the text. Digital Humanities, in my mind was the best example of an oxymoron, if I had ever heard a good one. I began this course with the question, “what could I possibly gain from knowing how many times a word shows up in a text?” I have concluded the course with the question, “in what different ways could these statistics and probabilities be applied to this text, or a wide array of texts, to provide me with the best kind of data to answer a series of research questions?”

Working with MONK throughout the semester in analyzing Hamlet, I have acquired a new appreciation for the mathematical aspects of the world. I say ‘appreciation’ without the implication that I have begun to appreciate mathematics, but to mean that I can see the value that it can provide in analyzing a text such as Hamlet, as I continue to have a lingering suspicion toward mathematics. Ben Schmidt’s article Treating Texts as Individuals vs. Lumping Them Together has provided me with additional insight into my perspectives of the tools that can be used to analyze texts, such as Hamlet, in the Digital Humanities.

It is my perspective, and argument, that although the traditional close-reading that we have been taught throughout the years as lovers of the literary has much to offer us in an analysis of literary texts such as Hamlet, the tools that are available in the Digital Humanities that provide us with statistical data and probabilities complete our understandings of the qualitative with the quantitative aspects. I believe that the precedence we place of the qualitative, though understandable, is misguided. The numerical values that we are provided with in our tools, though frightening and confusing for us english majors, complete our analysis in such a way that makes the digital a valuable and effective method in text analysis.

 

 

The Quantitative

MONK, despite its glitches and imperfections, did not fail to teach me a lesson about the Digital Humanities and the value of statistical data. In the beginning, I suppose I did not feel very different from the way Queen Gertrude did when she responded to Polonius’ melodramatic ramblings by saying, “More matter with less art (2.2.95).” I found MONK to be spewing at me numbers, statistics, probabilities, that provided me with nothing valuable whatsoever.

The images below, provide a pretty clear picture of what I was ‘fleeing’ from the rise of my university career:

THIS, after the entire course, is still lost to me:

I initially believed that I was going to understand nothing about these tools and flunk out of the course, however, it was comforting to find that I was wrong.

An aspect of MONK that I found particularly interesting in the way it contributed to my analysis of Hamlet, was the classification tool and its Naive Bayes analytics and Decision tree as methods of analysis. By using work frequencies of a variety of texts, MONK is able to classify texts into categories.

My immediate understanding of Hamlet, just by reading it, is that it is particularly tragic in its subject matter. Hamlet mopes around the entire text, quips like a madman with incredible mood swings, while everyone around him is scheming against one another, only to have it so everyone dies eventually. This plot, as ridiculous as I have made it seem in my summary of it, can be read as nothing but tragic. However, from the classification tool that MONK provides, I discovered that Hamlet‘s word frequencies, were more comedic than tragic. By comparing it to a wide array of different texts, I was able to discover that Hamlet, like other texts such as Othello, are anomalous to the tragic genre of Shakespeare’s texts. The question to be considered here is, would I have met these conclusions from just a traditional reading of the text? I doubt it.

The emphasis here, is not on my lack of abilities in close-reading texts…but on the acute abilities of the text mining strategies of tools such as MONK. From word frequencies, or the quantitative values of Hamlet, I was able to discern the qualitative aspect of it as being less tragic than the classic tragedy in Shakespearean texts.

The Qualitative

In his article Treating Texts as Individuals vs. Lumping Them Together, Ben Schmidt explores and describes the strengths and weaknesses of various methods of analytics, and their use in answering question in text analysis. He states that the key importance in using tools that employ these methods of analytics is “how to treat the two corpuses we want to compare. Are they a single long text? Or are they a collection of shorter texts, which have common elements we wish to uncover?” Interested in analyzing hundred of texts, Schmidt is aware if the imperfections that arise from any division of this large number of texts. He poses the question, ” how far can we ignore traditional limits between texts and create what are, essentially new documents to be analyzed?” At the end of the article, he provides lists of the appropriate uses of Dunnings log-likelihood, Mann-Whitney, and TF-IDF comparisons in texts.

From working with TF-IDF as well as Dunnings log-likelihood in MONK, it was interesting to find that I reached the same conclusions that Ben Schmidt reaches in his article with his analysis of the tools. Attempting to use these analytics in MONK just to analyze Hamlet alone, was a difficult and arduous task, as the text being analyzed was simply to small. Hamlet as an individual text, in comparison to the huge array of texts available in the MONK program, hardly returned information that could provide useful in a text-mining analysis of Hamlet. As many of the MONK users have noted, Hamlet on its own, was too narrow a data set to find any meaningful data using a broad and wide-scale analysis method such as MONK. As suggested in Schmidt’s article:

 

Each tool that uses and provides quantitative data has individual strengths and weaknesses. The valuable lesson to be taken away from Ben Schmidt’s article, is the suggestion that there must be a certain amount of care put into using tools such as Dunnings Log- likelihood and IF-IDF comparisons, and even with that care, sometimes these tools cannot be applied in the line of inquiry being pursued. In short, these tools cannot alway be relied on, and should not be the absolute basis of argumentation when it comes to text analysis. That mistrust that all of us share toward the numeric values that can pervade the literary, though extreme at times, is not unfounded. There is value in the qualitative meaning that we gather from traditional readings of texts, when the quantitative just simply does not make sense.

THEREFORE

I have learned that, in a sense, neither the traditional reading nor the digital statistics of texts are completely trustworthy.

With the traditional reading, I concluded without being absolutely correct, that Hamlet was completely a tragedy, and that there was simply no other type of text that it could be.

With the digital statistics, I discovered that, although I was returned with data, the methods that I was attempting to use were very picky in the type of data I was inputting, and could return me with skewed conclusions if I did not use them with the utmost care. (Which I don’t believe I did all the time.)

However, in both circumstances, I was able to use the digital to correct my traditional reading, and use the traditional reading to double-check my digital findings.

My purpose in writing all of the above is, therefore, to show that there is much value that can be gained from both methods of analysis. Each method on its own, is in some sense, incomplete. The Digital Humanities, in all of the tools it offers to provide a statistical analysis of probabilities in texts, through methods such as word frequencies, has provided not only a valuable, but legitimate method of analyzing literary texts such as Hamlet. Our fear of the numbers in statistics and probabilities and the automatic assumption that they will not be useful in a literary analysis of a text, though understandable, is misguided. As Hamlet begs of his friends, ” Nay then, I have an eye of you. If you love me, hold not off (2.2.255-257).” A request that many would beg of their endeavours using the digital tools, that they would not hesitate to reveal the value that they have uncovered beneath the text. The trick is in recognizing, to begin with, that there is in fact value, it just simply must be uncovered and laid in plain view for analysts to use.

However, once it is found…there is a great amount of valuable knowledge to be gained that can be contributed to our analyses as a whole.

For example,

The river does indeed represent the continuous winding and progression of life, and the numerical values of its speed, direction, and viscosity, tell me that this metaphorical river of life, flows at a rapid pace, in one direction decided by destiny, at a speed determined by the hardships and challenges innate to its path. Thus, providing me with a well-rounded, complete analysis, with the symbolic qualitative meaning and the numerical quantitative data, of the way of life.

 

 

Works Cited

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

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.

 

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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A Brave New (Digital) World

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am a purist at heart: Old school Rock ‘N’ Roll/ Punk rather than the mainstream music of today, records rather than digital downloads, and books; old, dusty, classic read-with-a-cup-of-tea-while-it-rains-outside books. But we are becoming (or rather, we have become) a digital society. I currently write this ‘blog’ on a computer while connected to the internet and listening to my ipod. My household holds a television for practically every room with DVD players and Blu-ray players as their companions, along with a multitude of game systems, laptops, tablets, and, of course, cell phones that everyone refuses to part with. Communication has shifted from face-to-face time to social media and online profiles accessible by anyone with access to the internet. If everything else has gone digital, moving up to the ‘next best thing’, why wouldn’t literature?  E-readers are becoming common, replacing the feel and smell of actual books (mine sits unloved while I pay attention to a print copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’.) Our campus library isn’t simply a library: it is a digital library. And now it seems the study of books has moved to the digital. Copy and paste your text into a program and you are instantly handed an analysis on a silver platter (supposedly), rejecting the old close reading method of reading, re-reading, and then re-re-reading with a yellow highlighter and pen while surrounded by a storm of loose leaf paper on which lay your scribbled notes and questions to explore.

Is this the way forward for literary analysis? Are English classes going to be taught by the click of a mouse rather than with the group discussions? In all honesty, I hope not. And to be realistic, I don’t believe so. But you can’t deny it is happening.

I find my thoughts summed up nice and simply in the title of a blog by Michael Kramer: The Fetishation of Data. In reading the blog, my attention is caught by his discussion of the problem of data vs. reality. As Kramer rightly points out, data is not reality, and accepting it as such (this ‘fetishation’) is dangerous. He reminds us that data is not 100% true; it holds inadequacies and faults (after all, machines, much like their creators, make mistakes. Need a reminder? You need only look back at the phase one blogs of my TAPoR group, where frustration with the program was palpable.) Kramer suggests that we have to bring ourselves into the equation and interpret the data we pull. If we simply take the data and present it as fact we are not only misusing it, but we are taken out of the process, allowing the purely qualitative data composed of pretty graphs (or word lists in the case of TAPoR)  to ‘dehumanize’ us. As Kramer rightly states, there are no “bodies, minds, desires, dispositions, and other extraordinarily concrete qualitative realities” captured in that given data, essentially rendering it moot. What is the point of reading and understanding a text when you are not going to look at what the author himself is expressing?

With digital analysis, it is all data, data, data. Everything is concrete and there is no room to break out of bounds. But the human mind is not to be contained. Shakespeare was a genius. His mind was (I can only assume) constantly flickering with ideas that shifted and evolved and begged to be heard. Ideas shift not only in the mind of the creator, but once it is the public’s to interpret once it is in their hands. What Hamlet says to one generation will not be the same as to the next; what he says to one person will not be the same to another. What it being said is the same, yes, but how we interpret it and how we process its meaning is constantly changing. The possibilities in what you can pull from the text are limitless, and the ideas discussed are far to complex for a machine running on 0’s and 1’s to comprehend. This is something I have discussed, briefly, in a previous blog: simply using digital data restrains my mind and forces me to view a text in a narrow frame of view. I find my focus being pulled away, causing me to miss things and unable to grasp the whole of what is being said. To understand the human imagination, a human mind is needed.

And so, going by what Kramer discussed with the need to interpret data, I turn to Hamlet to see what I can pull from the text, and what a machine (and its data I am to interpret) can say.

New Age Digital Analysis vs. Good ‘Ol Fashioned Human Interpretation

 Every time I come back to Hamlet I find myself coming away with new interpretations. In each new reading I find new meanings; I notice more themes; and I discover more layers to the characters. I can finish the play with the inception of new ideas, or the expansion of older ones. When I enter the text into my TAPoR program, however, it will always come out the same. The data I receive will be the same, time and time again. When I ask for a list of the frequent words used in the play (in a hope to find theme or mood, ETC), it will always come out looking like this:

On the surface, this says nothing to me. To pull anything out of the data received, I have to interpret it; I have to pull out what I consider key and relate that to what I already know of the text.

For instance, the most frequent word in Hamlet appears to be ‘Lord’. You would think with so many uses it would be the most important word, but really it is not. The word of focus for many studying the play is ‘madness’, which comes in with only 22 uses (not including lemmas, unfortunately.) Why is madness such an argued topic when discussing the play, when it is lightly touched upon as a frequent word? Because in reading the data, ‘madness’ is a word that may be thought of as having more depth due to the fact that while reading the play, you are able to notice the theme in characters or situations. In the case of Hamlet, you are able to think either ‘yes, he is mad’ or ‘no, he is not, he is playing an act’ based on what you see him say and do.

I personally do not think that Hamlet is mad. I came to this conclusion in my reading of the play and after a comparison between Hamlet’s ‘madness’ and Ophelia’s (which I have discussed in this post.) I compare the madness of the two in act IV because it is this moment in the play where the two instances of madness occur.

In my digital analysis, it does seem Hamlet is mad; I find more references in act IV to him being mad than I do for Ophelia:

Both uses of ‘mad’ are in reference to Hamlet, as are two of the three ‘madness’:

However, in my reading, I find much more references and key phrases of madness used towards Ophelia: Gertrude is told how “She is importunate – indeed, distract”(4.5.2) and how she “says she hears/There’s tricks i’th’ world, and hems and beats her heart,/Spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt/That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing.”(4.5.4-8) Claudius also refers to madness as he says she is “Divided from herself and her fair judgement” (4.5.85). Her description of madness is not so blunt as simply being called ‘mad’ like Hamlet, but it is still clear that she is indeed mad.

From what I read in the play, the reason Hamlet is thought of as mad is from other characters referencing him as such. The other characters are entitled to say such a thing. Around them (especially Claudius or Polonius), Hamlet certainly does appear mad as he talks about vague nonsense. This ‘nonsense’ talk is itself a hint to his sanity: while no one may understand completely what he is saying, his ‘nonsense’ is true and makes sense. It especially denies his madness when you think back on his declaration “to put an antic disposition on” (1.5.170) So while around others, Hamlet does appear to be insane. But alone, he is thoughtful. When Hamlet is alone on stage he delivers many soliloquies on his thoughts. His most famous speech, “To be or not to be” (3.1.55) is where he is at his most thoughtful, contemplating life and death. Can someone ‘mad’ be that thoughtful? Ophelia does concern herself with life and death in her madness, but nowhere near the sort of depth Hamlet has.

In my readings I find much to interpret and build up new ideas. My digital analysis, however, does not do such a good job. It may be due to my program’s limit to simply list and look for words, but any data I find seems to lack what I find when I read. And of course, I have to interpret the data I find by myself, meaning I am left to look at a fraction of what I am analysing.

My Time Down the Digital Rabbit Hole

What ENGL 203 has done, if anything, is thrown me down the rabbit hole, so to speak. In signing up for the course, I was drawn to take it based on the work to study. I didn’t understand what the ‘digital humanities’ portion of the course meant, but I was excited to find out and excited to try something new. And my excitement has not faded away. While I still don’t have a full grasp of what the digital humanities are or know the full extent of what it can do for my studies, its unique approach holds my interest. I have been thrown into a world of studies I was unfamiliar with, and who held more possibilities than I knew existed. I have seen that there are other methods of analysing a text apart from my chosen method of close reading. With a click of a button you can chart character speaking frequencies and word distribution; you can break lines down into common words and see what characters concern themselves with in their speech and thoughts, allowing more insight into who they are and what they do. What I find absolutely lovely about the use of digital tools is how fast they act to produce results which may point out details which I may overlook in my initial readings. For instance, I was aware of the references to nature throughout Hamlet, but I never noticed how many times the body or mind was referenced until after I sorted through the word lists my program compiled.

However, no matter what sort of bells and whistles and shiny gadgets the digital analysis offers, the data they offer is somewhat empty. Data is purely qualitative; it means nothing if you do not look at it and think and interpret what it is saying. A graph will be a squiggly line unless you say ‘this means this’. A word frequency list is just a list of words, unless you sort through and pick out key words. Not only this, but the data is stagnant. Machines will pull the same results time and time again, where as new thoughts are incepted and old ideas may be expanded further with the human imagination.

I believe that while others are more suited for a digital analysis of text and the interpretation of data, I am more content and comfortable with a traditional close reading. I would rather form my own ideas than have a machine point it out for me. I would rather wear out a book than wear down my keyboard. And I would rather read a text and experience what was written and expressed so carefully by the author. But to each his own. It’s been fun experiencing a new world.

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

The Darker Secrets of the Digital Humanities

Another semester comes to an end, and for the first time ever I’ve spent more quality time with my computer than with a good old fashioned book in order to complete my English class. Twitter, WordPress, and WordHoard have consumed my life and have completely flipped the world of Shakespeare around for me. I’ve never been a huge fan of the bard and I’m still not super interested investigating him any further than I’m required too. Having the internet there and the various digital tools to aid me definitely made this semester a lot more enjoyable than the fall semester where it was strictly reading Shakespeare’s works (with a hint of twitter).

The way we chose to investigate Hamlet this semester was by strictly looking for answers to our own questions. The problem with this is that we eliminated anything that we found that doesn’t necessarily fit with our hypothesis; we also tended to eliminate things that we didn’t find interesting. Scott B. Weingart (the scottbot irregular), mentioned in his blog entry entitled, Avoiding Traps, the ideas of sampling bias, selection bias, data dredging, cherry picking, confirmation bias, p-values, positive results bias, file drawer problem, and HARKing. I believe that all of the above are crucial to understanding the digital humanities fully and also, so we don’t make broad or incorrect assumptions about Shakespeare’s literature.

 

 

(Original Image from funnyjunk.com)

Beware of Biases

Weingart defines a selection bias as “an error in choosing the individuals or groups to take part in a scientific study”, and a sampling bias is “that it undermined the external validity of a test (the ability of its results to be generalized to the rest of the population)”. So, for both of those to make sense in our classroom we would use our digital tools (WordHoard, WordSeer, Monk, TAPoR, and Voyeur) as the individuals taking part in our study and the sampling bias would simply be the results we garner from them. As we learnt throughout the semester some tools are simply not designed to work and analyze specific portions of the text. Some are better at looking at a specific scene and act (Phase 1), others are better at looking at whole scenes (Phase 2), and there are still some, that I get the sense, that are not great at doing work at either phase and would be better suited comparing the whole text to other works.

I worked with WordHoard for the entirety of the course and personally I felt like it was able to work well during both phases. I was able to gain information that I need relatively quickly; however, I did notice that when I presented my findings to other users who were not using WordHoard they were confused with my findings and screenshots (I even tried kicking it old school and presenting my findings on sticky notes, as seen in my fourth blog post, with no avail). My findings fit perfectly into the concept of sampling bias since it’s unreadable to non-users of WordHoard, making it hard for my finding to reach a wide audience.

 

To use all the Information, or to not use all the information, that is the question

The Internet is filled with more information than one person will ever need. With our work with the digital humanities we’re just expanding the information that is out there and for me this is a terrifying idea. When I first started elementary school, which was only in 1997, we still did all our research with books, the Internet was still considered “new”. Now, we live in a digital age where anything we want or need to know can be typed into nearly any device and we’ll receive an answer in seconds or less. We must be weary of the answers we receive from the Internet, as a good portion of it is misleading or false. The Internet is full of “trolls” (which Urban Dictionary users define as “Someone who is purposefully posting on a forum/message board/site with the sole aim to irritate the regular members”); in a sense Hamlet could be considered the troll of his day.

(Image from diylol.com)

So what do we do with all this information? Are we just adding fuel to the fire without even realizing it? Are our assumptions and conclusions trolling the digital humanities community and Shakespearean aficionados?

Weingart’s concern about data dredging resonates with me a great deal. For me, this was the most terrifying part of the process. Data dredging is the idea that with all the information out there for us it’s “tempting to find correlations between absolutely everything”. I fell victim to data dredging when I trusted Monk’s findings (HA, why did I ever trust Monk?). In my most recent blog post I talked about using April’s results and testing them in mine. I guess Monk scoured its database and came up with the results below but when I tested them in my tool it came up with zero results.

(April’s Results) 
 
(My Results)

Weingart was talking about human data dredging but in the case of Monk versus WordHoard, I fell victim the data dredging of Monk and it giving me false-positives. Monk trolled me.

 

Information Everywhere!

We all want to come off as intelligent individuals who know what they’re talking about so we tend to only share are solid and most interesting information. We are all victims of being a cherry picker (cherry picking isn’t just for sports anymore); we continuously cut away information until we get the strong hypothesis or conclusion that we were searching for.

For example, I looked up the word “love” in WordHoard and it told me that it appeared 65 times in the play. Great! Now I could make the general assumption that love was used in the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “a feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone” in all 65 occurrences if that would strengthen my argument, cherry picking. However, looking further into the results I see it’s not always used in that context:

Hamlet: As love between them like the palm might flourish, (5.2.40) ✔

Gertrude: For love of God, forbear him. (5.1.276) ✖

Hamlet uses the word love in the proper context of the OED definition, but Gertrude simply uses it as an expression with no significance behind it.

After you’re done cherry picking and data dredging you’re left with about 5% of all the information you’ve collect because that is al you’ve deemed worthy enough to be presented and shared. This is called the positive results bias. All the other information that is left over from your research is discarded, creating the file drawer problem.

The file drawer problem is an issue because without sharing our failures, or inconclusive results, we’re leaving other people to go down the same path. If we worked together as a community and published all our results, the good and the bad, we’d be able to see what works and what doesn’t and be able to provide better feedback and support.

 

Going Forward

Going forward, new and old digital humanists need to be aware of what their work is doing and how it’s helping or not helping others. Acknowledging the biases that are being formed when we do our research and being conscious to try and strop them is important. If we can stop only publishing our positive results and start sharing our other trials too, which the majority of English 203 did this semester in their blog posts due to all the frustrations and headaches our tools created, we can help and foster one another’s learning.

Data dredging and cherry picking is harder to stop doing because we’re drawn to those results. They’re the ones that bring us closer to our goal and our purpose of research. Sometimes other alleys and opportunities should be looked into before sticking simply to those first positive results.

Weingart also mentioned confirmation bias, p-values and HARKing, which I did not touch on either because I don’t have enough knowledge on the subject (p-values), or I felt that they didn’t quite fit into our classroom (confirmation bias and HARKing). However, from what I read, I do believe they are still important and vital to sustaining and fostering the growing digital humanities. As an individual who is addicted to her computer and the Internet, I hope they’re here to stay and get worked into more of the University’s courses.

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, http://cscdc.northwestern.edu/blog/?p=332#comments

The End of a Beginning

I am writing on something that before this class I never knew about let alone expected to ever find myself writing about.  I have taken a class this past semester that teaches about the digital humanities as a method for literary analysis, but my reasoning for taking that class should be made clear, it is a requirement for an English degree that I must have before I am allowed to go into the field of education.  Because of my degree requirements, I have found myself taking a literary analysis class that was much more than I ever expected it to be.  I am writing about my first experience with something that is new to me and also happens to be useful and enjoyable, that is, the digital humanities.  In this post, I will be analyzing the feasibility of an idea that involves mixing together both the digital approach to the humanities and the traditional approach to the humanities for the sake of education.

Mixed Motives and Mixed Results

I have many motives for writing this extensive blog post, the fact that it is a requirement for English 203 is not the least of those motives but this is the only mention which that particular motive will receive.  First among my motives listed here is the fact that I intend to go into the field of education upon completion of my university education, so I must ask myself, how would the digital humanities affect or be affected by education.  My second motive listed is the fact that I was influenced at one time by an English professor to believe that, remaining realistic, there is no definite right or wrong way to analyze a text and therefore there is no definite right or wrong analysis of a text; so believing this has also allowed me to have an open mind concerning the humanities.  Therefore, I felt that the subject must be mentioned.  My third and final motive listed here, is the fact that I just wanted to compare the traditional aspects of the humanities to the more modern aspects of the digital humanities.  All of these motives together are why I picked the blog post from the Digital Humanities Now website that I did.  That particular blog post is one written about interdisciplinarity and curricular incursion that can be seen if you go to the following link,

http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/

My thoughts were that I wouldn’t find a better blog post to compare both aspects of the humanities as well as the effects that they have had on education and vice versa.

Pedagogy

I intend to go into the field of education, because of this I feel that it would be good to know some of the proper approaches to the Digital Humanities in case I ever end up teaching something about them or having to introduce a course on the digital humanities to a school board or committee.  The idea of interdisciplinary actions in the curricular aspect of the humanities is essentially, new revolutions in the humanities and how they affect or are affected by pedagogy and that is what I am interested in.  The digital humanities are a new and different method of teaching English that may be viewed more receptively by students than the traditional approach to the humanities because it can be easier for some people to acquire an analysis of a text through some of the tools available.  The Digital Humanities may also be more appealing to a number of students because of the more relaxed writing style that is available through them.

Right and Wrong

I have the personal belief that there is no definite right or wrong approach to textual analysis which extends to the idea that there is no definite right or wrong approach to the humanities.  That particular belief is supported by the idea that each and every person analyzes a text differently.  Therefore, there are as many perspectives of texts as there are people.  Each person gains a different perspective of a text just by reading it and the tools available through the digital humanities have the capability to verify, expand and build upon those various perspectives.  Finally, I feel that the line between right and wrong analyses of a text is really blurry, therefore, who am I to judge whether or not a new method of analysis is definitively right or wrong.

Comparison

I would like to compare what I have learned of the digital humanities to the information that is available to the world at large and to what I have learned about the traditional approach to the humanities.  Before starting the literary analysis course with Dr. Ullyot, I knew very little about the digital humanities, in fact, I went into the class thinking that it would be based on the classical literary analysis class where the students read the text, come up with a quantitative analysis of the text, write a paper on that analysis, and then when they are done with that, they proceed to rinse and repeat.  It is a good thing that my assumption was way off base, because a class that I expected to be dull was actually highly interesting as well as informative.  In the past, I have only ever approached the humanities in the classical manner and I have always been comfortable with the traditional method of textual analysis where a person reads the text and attempts to draw conclusions from it and prove those conclusions by writing an essay.  I was only a fan of this, however, because I am a relatively strong reader and it has always been easy for me to read a text and draw a decent quantitative analysis from it.  For me, the only problem with the traditional approach to the humanities lay in the aspect of having to write an essay, something that I am not very good at doing.  The Digital Humanities are really quite new to me; in fact, at the beginning of this past semester was the first time that I had ever heard of them, let alone studied them.  At first I was really skeptical of the idea of using technology to analyze texts as well as the idea of posting my findings on Twitter or a blog.  The reason for this was because of the fact that the only examples of either one that I had ever come across were pointless wastes of time with the people who wrote on them badly abusing the use of the English language.  After I realized that both Twitter and blogging could be extremely useful, I came to accept the idea of textual analysis using computers, to be honest, for me it was a journey of small steps.  I am still not entirely comfortable with the methods of textual analysis available through the digital humanities, but I will say that they are an amazing way to verify or prove my own quantitative analyses and make them qualitative.  I am also much more comfortable with the more relaxed writing style that is afforded to me through writing on blogs rather than a formal essay.  I feel that if the best of both aspects of the humanities could be mixed together, then there would be a truly excellent dynamo in place for the study of literature.

How it Was Done

Throughout the course of the semester, the people in English 203 learned about different tools available through the digital humanities and what those tools are capable of using a base text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  First we learned how to operate one of five different tools, and second, we got together in groups with four other people who all used different tools and worked together to analyze a portion of Hamlet.  This exercise taught me much about one tool, a little bit about the other four, and a great deal about how the digital humanities work.  The idea or concept of having four other people working in concert with me on the same project being able to converse with them via email or blog really made things easy.  I learned through the use of the blog posts that we are required to do, that the digital humanities are entirely collaborative.  Any one person with access to the blog was able to comment on or contribute to anything that I chose to write about.  Because of this, anything written on a blog in the digital humanities is constantly exposed to public scrutiny, as well as any new developments in technology, which are constantly occurring.  The concept of putting your findings in a blog post is a new and highly effective way to keep your writing and information perpetually up to date.

Phase I

            I was given the Voyeur or Voyant tool developed by Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell to learn how to operate in order to analyze the text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the first phase of our class programme. http://hermeneuti.ca/voyeur

By learning how to use it, I discovered that the Voyeur/Voyant tool is very easy to use, especially for someone like me who is not very technologically adept.  I also learned that Voyeur/Voyant has a very open user interface which makes it very easy to start out using, just input your text and go to town basically.


Between the Phases

I used the tool that I learned about earlier in order to study Hamlet and verify qualitatively my own quantitative analysis of the text.  As I mentioned before, I have very little trouble with reading a text and coming up with a quantitative analysis of it.  Therefore, I thought that it would be easier to use my tool in order to verify my own analyses and make them qualitative rather than use it to come up with entirely new analyses.  Because of this I used the Voyeur/Voyant tool as a hypothesis testing machine and achieved what I believe to be excellent results.  I am not saying that it is not a hypothesis or conclusion generating machine, because I believe that it can be used as such; what I am saying is it was more practical for me to use Voyeur/Voyant in the former capacity.

Phase II

Once I had a firm grasp of how to use Voyeur/Voyant, I was pooled into a group with four other people who had used different tools than my own in order to see how well our tools would interact; this was the second phase of the class programme.  Most of the members of my group agreed that their tools were extremely viable in the capacity of testing hypotheses.  In fact, we made a quantitative analysis of Act II of Hamlet regarding surveillance, and between the five of us and our tools we successfully proved our analysis.  Throughout the course of the second section of the class, I came to the conclusion that no matter how good my tool was on its own, it could always be boosted up or helped out by another tool’s unique functions.  In my case, the tool that helped my own out the most was the Wordhoard tool developed by Northwestern University, http://wordhoard.northwestern.edu/userman/index.html .  I found that Voyeur/Voyant wouldn’t actually count how many words a person said, only how often they spoke, where Wordhoard would do exactly what I needed in that respect.

The Rewards

            After taking Dr. Ullyot’s English 203 class as well as reading Ryan Cordell’s blog on interdisciplinarity I have come to the conclusion that there is a place in the humanities for technology, I am not saying that it will completely overtake the traditional approaches to the humanities, but that there is a place for it.  I feel that the opinion stated in Ryan Cordell’s blog that “for digital humanists to make a real incursion into the field of literary studies, we have to start presenting in non-DH panels” (http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/).  Even though not all people agree on the concept of the digital humanities, and not all of them communicate in the same way, in the words of Ryan Cordell, “we have to start actively seeking out colleagues who don’t know what we do—perhaps even those who don’t like what we do. We have to talk with colleagues who don’t tweet” (http://ryan.cordells.us/blog/2012/02/20/dh-interdisciplinarity-and-curricular-incursion/).

My Experiences and Responses

I have been introduced to the digital humanities and learned about them through trial and error in Dr. Ullyot’s class.  Now that I have done that, I am far more comfortable with the digital humanities now than I was upon first hearing about them and I am far more receptive to the idea of using technology for the purpose of textual analysis.

Results

Throughout the course of the semester, I have learned how to operate the Voyeur/Voyant program in concert with four other members of the English 203 class.  I have studied Act II with four other people who have all learned how to use different tools available through the digital humanities.  We discovered that the different tools in the digital humanities work better together than they do on their own.  When my Phase II group and I agreed that our tools worked better for them to verify their own findings rather than discover new things, I came to the conclusion that like the different tools in the humanities, maybe the two aspects of the humanities would also be able to work together in order to be much more useful and adaptable.

My Own Conclusions

My conclusions on the whole are that I accept the digital humanities as a new and improved method of testing hypotheses even though I am more comfortable with the traditional version of the humanities.  From my experience in both the traditional humanities and the digital humanities, I have come to the conclusion that both aspects of the humanities would greatly benefit from interaction with each other.

Text Analysis Tools and their Silences

ENGL 203 FINAL BLOG POST

*Note throughout this Blog I will be associating Text Analysis Tools and their ability or lack of to connect with text with comparison to Monk. Since I worked with Monk for the year I feel the most comfortable associating this post and assumptions towards it. No assumptions are made about any other tools since I have not worked in depth with them and am not as familiar with them*

Well this is the final blog post, the last and final one of Hamlet in the Digital Humanities. Since the final blog post is a “biggie” I figured I should write on something that I have been constantly thinking about since the beginning of the course: quantitative and qualitative analysis. The digital Humanities is all about looking at things from a computer data based perspective to find more ways we can locate information or otherwise known as quantitative information. Which is a different perspective than what people are used to which is qualitative analysis. This year we analyzed Hamlet qualitatively and quantitatively and looked at how the two relate or compare to one another. It seems to be an upcoming trend to look at text through computers and I was wondering what this effect may lead to the original qualitative analysis of texts and how the two differ all together. I believe that with new technology in the digital humanities arising this may create “silences” in meaning and understanding of a text and relation to it similarly on how digital texts have created “archival silences” in that the more digital we become with text analysis the less involved we seem to get with the text and understanding it from its original roots.

Lost Voice

“Archival Silences”. Where do I begin to explain the tricky term of Archival Silences… I guess that depends on which definition you are looking at. In Kate Theimer’s Blog on “The Two Meanings of Archival Silences and Their Implications”  she describes archival silences many different ways

1. Gaps or “silences” in a body of original records

2. reference to materials that are not represented in the digital collections that have been marked up in ways that make them useful for research

3. ways in which voices from the past are silenced

4. those materials that have been digitized and made available online

After looking at these definitions and looking at my blog and what I wish to write about I decided that in terms of this paper the silences which I refer to would be the gaps or voices that are lost in the Digital Humanities Text Analysis tools, and the implications digitizing has had on our bodies of work.

Overall I felt that with the Digital Humanities and the text analysis tools there seemed to be a lack of absence or silence within the association to the original text. I felt that even though in our class we spent time looking at Hamlet on paper and looking at Hamlet through a text analysis tool I still had a lot of difficulty connecting the two together. Even so after phase two I was able to relate the two together, however I found that each part could stand on its own.  What I mean by this is when you read Hamlet on paper you are able to understand it and pick up on certain themes and ideas and don’t need the digital version of Hamlet to grasp at it. I also found this the same with the digital version in that even though with text analysis tools it takes the text and picks it apart it looks at it a completely different way than a human does, in that it looks at things from a quantitative measure as in numbers, language and how often something may appear.

Even though the digitized version of the text looks at the text through a different aspect than what a person would do it looks at the text from a different level and thus the original story and themes that we pick up can be silenced. In that the digitized version of the text only looks at the text with aspects of words and numbers not a thought provoking questioning or understanding that we get from reading it. Thus we can say if you follow this logic that Digital Text Analysis tools themselves have created their own silences in that they are unable to pick up the human perception.

Hamlet and Text

To further test my question about archival silences that are created within text analysis tools I decided to look at the text that we have looked at throughout the whole year: Hamlet. I decided to do something basic and look at a common theme found throughout Hamlet which is “madness”. I wanted to see the ways in which human interpretation or qualitative analysis found this theme.

The theme of madness can be easily seen through one of Shakespeare’s best attributes: Language. Shakespeare has a very rich language which is layered with meaning on top of meaning. The ability to look at language, associate it and read into its many different meanings can be seen as a humanistic qualitative feature in that it human emotion and understanding is able to look at this language and see its many layered meanings as well as the association and feelings behind it. An example of madness can be seen when Ophelia has lost herself in Act 4 and the king states:”Poor Ophelia/Divided from herself and her fair judgment, /Without the which we are pictures or mere beasts”  (4.5.80-81). This quote shows how the madness has “divided” Ophelia, meaning that she is split off into two separate parts, her body as well as “her fair judgment”. We can see that her “fair judgment” indicates her senses in that she is no longer associated towards it. In turn it has turned her into a “beast” meaning that she is considered nothing more than an animal and that without her judgment Ophelia is seen as animalistic. This also gives reference to the idea of humanity and what makes us a person. Here King Claudius suggests that Ophelia’s reason and “judgment” make her human and without them she is nothing more than an animal. We must also consider the word “lost” in that it associates that she had it and now it is gone. It also gives light to the idea that she may find herself again, and there is hope that Ophelia may return to the girl she was and that she will no longer be considered animalistic this may also convey a sense of remorse in King Claudius’s choice of words in that he is hopeful that Ophelia will get better and he feels sorry for what has happened to her and the condition that she is now in. This can also be seen by how King Claudius used the word “Poor” as he associated a sense of sorrow towards her and apathy for what has come to her in that the madness has turned her into something she is not. Overall this quote shows how “madness” is not only found but is also described and related to in that day and age.

We can see through this brief analysis of text that there are many layers within Hamlet and by going through and taking apart the language bit by bit we can sense a greater understanding of not only the character Ophelia but as well as associations with how people were viewed if they were seen as mentally unstable as well as character feelings and associations towards one another. This two lined sentence in Shakespeare speaks volumes in references and meaning. It also gives the reader an association of feeling, understanding and a sense of emotion tied towards his words. On the other hand a computer would have no way of analyzing text through this deep of a method.

Gaps Created Because of the Digital Humanities

                For this past semester I have been looking at Hamlet within a text analysis towards Monk. If you have read any of my previous Blogs you probably realize that Monk is a frustrating tool which doesn’t tend to cooperate often but it is still a text analysis tool.

Text Analysis tools are used to gather a greater strength or grasp of ideas within a text. Text analysis tools basically do what the name says, they analyze text. Within each tool it took the text of Hamlet and analyzed it in its own specific way and found out some interesting things associated with it. This is where I think the silences begin. For me working with Monk it was difficult associating the text with the findings. This can be seen with the concordances in that it shows you the word that you are looking for but it does not pertain where in the text it was said, as well as who said it.

Here you see I have looked up the word “madness” in that Monk displays how often the word madness appears in the text. Although this may show that madness appears 22 times in the play. It also shows the phrase that madness was found in.

To me this is a big problem since as a class we were relying on these tools to give us information about the text. When it did give information I found that it had little association or connection to the text itself. I could see where Monk had found it, but since I had no idea of the origin I had no concept of its meaning and thus I had not gained a greater strength nor grasp of the text itself. Even though you are able to look at the words and see the context which they fit in you can’t relate it back to Hamlet because you don’t know its origin or its speaker. This shows the silences in that there is a gap of information that is not being received or understood, but it just gives you data. I know to try and fully understand what Monk is trying to say about Madness I will have to go back to the text and sift through it myself to know who said it where it was said in the play.

This is also shown with Monks unique tool Naye Bayes in the decision tree which picks up the theme that you have chosen and sees how confident it can be found throughout the text.

Once again I am shown data and information, but I have no idea why these words are associated with it or the context that they are spoken in. Even though Naye Bayes does show you the common words associated with it, it does not show you the ways in which the tool picked up the certain idea or theme. This shows me a lack of proof of what Monk actually found and how it can be useful. It leads once more to a silence which just shows data and information but lacks an actual connection towards the text and thus the reader.

In phase two my group and I decided to try and make a connection with the text towards the theme of spy and surveillance which we found extremely prevalent in act two by reading. This was a way for us to try and bridge this connection between qualitative and quantitative text while focusing on the idea of erasing the association of silences that some tools created. I found this to be an extremely helpful way of bridging the gap between human and computer association. I did feel that for the use of our presentation was for the main concept of trying to strengthen the theme we have picked up on and have found. I believe with the combination of all 5 tools we still would have picked up the theme of spying and surveillance if none of us had ever read Hamlet or understood the theme found within the text. However I am unsure of how well we would have been able o understand and grasp the strong concept of rich language that Shakespeare uses. As mentioned in one of my previous Blogs some words which we convey as strong themes throughout the play don’t even show up. The language used in a specific context seems to hold importance in the human understanding where a computer may lack or add “silences” to.

                                Overall I felt that the text analysis tools did create “silences” that were not included to or pertained to the text. When looking at both text and tool I did feel like there was still some aspects that were not being fully understood even though the computer gave me an answer. The best way I can describe it is solving a math problem by hand and understanding all the parts and particulars to it where as if I picked up a calculator I would have the answer starring straight at me in the face and I have no idea or concept of how it got there. This makes me wonder of our future and understanding of books and novels. Will there be a “calculator phase” that will just show us the answers but we have no idea or concept of how they got there? Can we really consider this diving deeper into a text when it just shows us the answer or tells us how often something appears?

The In-Between

A main point I saw throughout the whole experience was the point and validity to quantitative analysis. Yes it is interesting to see things broken down in a numbers based only perspective but I still felt that you had to rely heavily on the text itself to fill in the “gaps” or “silences” that were created because of the fact that it is taking a text that we understand qualitatively and putting it into a quantitative format.

Now don’t get me wrong about the tools in that they are all useless and evil, that is definitely not the case. I am merely suggesting that in looking into this new era of digitizing we still need our original texts to fill in the blanks that we don’t really understand. In that text analysis tools become a help towards our understanding but not a dependence. I am a strong believer in the original form of understanding text. I think it is important to go through a text and pick it out the old fashion way similarly to how you won’t understand someone until you have walked in their shoes. To me the text is the shoes and for me to fully understand and comprehend something you need that text. Without it you may have grasped a concept or idea that is being presented but there will be gaps.

What the future Holds

Kate writes on how these archival silences have had implications on ourselves and how eventually one day “that which is not available digitally with become equated with that which does not exist” . I guess you can say we have similar fears in that one day there may be a time when text analysis tools have taken over the concept of reading and understanding a book the old fashion way.

This can also relate to the technology today in that there are so many different ways that people communicate with one another but don’t at the same time. If you look at texting, Facebook chat, or even talking on the phone (which seems old fashion now a days) they all convey the idea of finding and passing information to one another fast while missing the human connection of emotion. There are countless times when someone will get mad over some computerized message because the human connection and emotion behind it is lost similarly to the silences found within text analysis in that the deeper meaning and context is essentially lost due to this phase of understanding and processing at a fast pace.

I can’t help but wonder if this will happen to our books and if they will “be or not to be” (3.1.58) meaning if they will be able to survive in an ever expanding digital world. I hope we don’t lose sight of the text and what it has to offer us because without it there will be a million unheard, unrecognized voices that eventually will go silent forevermore one day.

 

 

Works Cited List

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Stephen Greenblat, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Kathrine Eisaman Maus: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print. The Second Norton Edition.

The Digital Humanities and the Humanities: An Integrated Force?

With the accumulating significance of the digital humanities, comes the potential for an integrated, more effective approach to critical text analysis. The potential process arising from this rapidly developing field may be viewed as the following: traditional closed reading will provide the question, and the digital humanities will provide the answer, which may then be formed into a conclusion, following critical qualitative analysis to ensure the credibility of quantitative values. In other words, so long as human intellect is applied to evaluating  the validity of data, the quantitative approaches and results inherent to the digital humanities demonstrate the potential to illustrate new conclusions and questions regarding a text, through identifying patterns and trends which may not have been considered before. Throughout the duration of this account, it is my intent to convey how the implements of the digital humanities may be considered an equal part of the humanities, as opposed to simply an instrument to the broader field—so long as data and quantitative results are applied properly (with sufficient awareness of the potential sources of error in what is being represented). I will demonstrate this level of potential linkage, through first discussing a case study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and how quantitative and qualitative text analysis may integrate with one another, before proceeding, in the second section, to convey the potential of the digital tool word seer to collectivize subjective and objective material into one unit, before later exploring the question posed by Michael J. Kramer in the blog post Reinventing the Wheel(which may be accessed using this link:http://www.michaeljkramer.net/issuesindigitalhistory/blog/?p=377 ) that I have based my argument on, which is: to what
extent are the digital humanities one with the traditional humanities?
I will then proceed to highlight my reflections, in the final section, on
engaging with the digital humanities throughout the English 203 research-based course, commenting on what I have learned throughout the process.

Hamlet case study- A demonstration of how quantitative and qualitative approaches to a critical question may be applied in cohesion to form a conclusion

Upon evaluating the iconic text of Hamlet, two approaches may be pursued—an application of knowledge acquired through critically reading the text, or an alternative approach, in the case, being the use of a digital humanities tool to suggest trends and patterns that could serve as indications of plot, motifs, and character distinctions through speech patterns. In considering these two potential avenues for evaluating Hamlet, I have considered a question that is often debated, regarding the text: Can Hamlet’s perplexing behaviour be attributed to insanity(or “madness”) or to calculated deliberation? Qualitatively, Hamlet himself offers insight into his motivations for his later behaviour earlier on in the text in stating to Horatio, “Here as before: never—so help you mercy,/ How strange or odd some’er I bear myself/(As I perchance here after
shall think meet/ To put an antic disposition on)…”(Hamlet.1.5.166-70) before instructing his friend not to concern over his behaviour. Additionally, Hamlet also offers another indication that he is well aware of what he is engaging in, and how is conducting himself, when he subtly implies to Rozencrantz and Guildenstern: “I am but mad north-north west. When the/ wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw”(Hamlet.2.2.315-16). How does this information relate to the question I posed? Critically analyzing Hamlet’s remarks for indications of deliberation exemplifies the qualitative approach to answering the question. The quantitative approach, which well supplements the qualitative
approach, may be conducted with a variety of digital tools—I am most familiar with Berkeley’s word seer(http://wordseer.berkeley.edu/shakespeare/), and have therefore implemented it in my investigation.

While it is relatively simple to superficially label Hamlet’s term disposition as a façade or contrived attitude, there is little that can be verified about the statement, in the absence of knowing how the word is applied throughout the text. In order to find out exactly what “disposition” refers to, I found it suited to input the word into word seer’s word frequency heat map function(http://www.youtube.com/watch feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=DPhQQExQjZ4) which enables one to visualize the frequency of a word throughout a text, and identify when exactly it occurred(I will elaborate further on the potential of this feature in the next section) in order to observe the different meanings it represents, and how often it is used. In conducting this assessment with the entire text, I received the following results:

Incidentally, the word “disposition” sparsely occurs throughout the text.  However, in the usage of the word pictured in the above heat map, it appears once again to represent either personality traits, or characteristic tendencies—aspects that could feasibly be manipulated, or otherwise “forced”, as Hamlet is described as doing. This is an effective example of how quantitative figures may reinforce or reaffirm hypotheses or qualitative speculations. While this data is intriguing, I decided to consult another feature of word seer, the word tree function, to see if I could identify the context surrounding the word “disposition”, each time it is used throughout the text. The results I received are as follows:

What I found interesting was that the word truant appeared in the context of one of the uses of “disposition”, another apparent indicator of disposition derived from a tendency. Therefore, a potential answer to the question I posed, harnessing ammunition from both qualitative speculation and quantitative results, could be that Hamlet is well aware of the way in which he is prepared to conduct himself, and is thus entirely sane, and is concocting a ruse to mislead his uncle from his intentions—a deliberative, conscious act. While this assertion is open to re-evaluation, and is not necessarily correct, it provides an optimal example of how the qualitative and quantitative can intermingle to produce new conclusions, or otherwise reaffirm them—a product of the digital humanities and the larger field of humanities integrating.

Word seer- An efficient companion to my research

Berkeley’s word seer, a relatively simple to use instrument, is most useful in its capacity to transform raw data into new questions. What I mean by this is that the tool demonstrates  the potential to reinforce or generate qualitative hypotheses, based on quantitative data returned—as, when one employs word seer in their research, they are often not sure as to what they will find. In a previous blog post(http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/01/birth-of-a-salesman-how-word-seer-and-its-supplemented-images-may-sell-us-new-interpretations/) I discussed how word seer is both interesting(through its visual qualities) and insightful(in its potential to produce new interpretations, or disregard obsolete preconceptions), and how superficial suppositions(such as Hamlet being considered about “death” or “revenge” alone) may be discredited based on the actual word frequencies of such words, as revealed by word seer. For instance, in regards to the qualitative value of the tool, my initial observation(expanded upon in my blog post cited above) was that “…a constantly recurring word can be inferred to represent a central theme within a text, as a word such as ‘lust’—one carrying thematic implications—may recur in one of Shakespeare’s other texts…”. However, the perils of accepting these words as themes without critical analysis and the application of human
intellect is illuminated in Michael J. Kramer’s admonishment that “…even as we find ourselves experiencing the new, it’s just as worthwhile to locate Digital Humanities in relation to the old.” In this case, the “old” is traditional text analysis, which must not be neglected, even though word seer and its aesthetic visual qualities(such as heat maps and word trees) offer an intriguing alternative. This is yet another example of how the quantitative and qualitative must work in cohesion—in this case, mutually offering insights towards one another, as data may prompt new questions, which may then be viewed through a closed reading lens, considering specific thematic and plot aspects of a text.

In responding to my assertions of the methods that must underlie the tool word seer, one might contemplate this question: What evidence is there that word seer can aid in disregarding obsolete or superficial qualitative conclusions or hypotheses, surrounding a text? My rebuttal is illustrated in this search of the frequency of the words “revenge”, “murder”, “death” and “kill” in Hamlet, using word seer’s heat map function, with the results depicted below:


Needless to say, Hamlet’s earned legacy, coined by popular culture, as the revenge tragedy is supported by the frequency of the words I selected, as they appear abundantly throughout the text. However, perhaps Hamlet isn’t exclusive to the characterization of “revenge”, as a conducted search of the same words in Coriolanus uncovers somewhat similar results:


These word frequency similarities may serve as a prompt for a qualitative investigation, based on this quantitative data, into what plot elements of each text establish Hamlet and Coriolanus as similar—another testament to what kinds of questions and approaches can be provoked by synergy between quantitative and qualitative methods.

In another of my previous blog posts(http://engl203.ucalgaryblogs.ca/2012/03/21/defining-hamlet-as-a-tragedy-or-lack-of-one-a-quantitative-and-qualitative-endeavourphase-two-blog-post-three/), I evaluated, in great detail, the extent to which word seer may aid in determining whether or not Hamlet as a character fits the profile of a tragic hero(compared with the flawed characters of Shakespeare’s other texts, such as the ambitious Macbeth)through the use of its described as function, which enables one to view the words used to describe certain characters by those around them. In inputting Hamlet described as “blank” I received support for my hypothesis that Hamlet is not as well
defined as other tragic heroes featured in Shakespearean texts
—if a tragic hero at all. Qualitatively, he lacks the tragic flaw that causes him to pay with his life for a mistaken act(while Hamlet dies, it is not directly the result of something he has done based on a flawed character trait, as opposed to say, Othello, who commits the mistaken act of murdering his wife Desdemona as a result of his tragic flaw of envy, and then ends up taking his own life as a consequence), while quantitatively, the data of word seer reveals that he is described as the following(which are hardly terms indicative of a tragic flaw, or character weakness):


In essence, these correlations between a character and how they are described are valuable in indicating not only how they are perceived, but perhaps how they act as well. Therefore, in light of word seer’s ability to perform such searches, along with heat map and word tree visual representations of word frequencies throughout entire plays(or even more compact fragments of acts and scenes),   deems it a formidable and useful implement of the digital humanities. Not only has this tool allowed me to engage substantively with the text of Hamlet , examining details that are often largely overlooked or obscured in the process of traditional closed reading, but also, it has provided me with a medium to blend critical qualitative text analysis with valuable trends and patterns identified by quantitative data. Thus, not only is word seer an effective tool for viewing word frequencies and conducting word comparisons using the simple search feature, it is also an agent of blending the subjective with the objective, in order to aid in establishing new avenues for research. It supports the claim that the digital humanities and the humanities can, and should be(with careful attention being directed towards the quality of data received) a unified force, as opposed to one “serving” the other.

Further exploring the question: Are the digital humanities and the humanities one?

An integral consideration has been articulated throughout this account: that the digital humanities and the traditional humanities are an integrated force—not a superior and subordinate. However, I have also advocated that there are potential hazards to relying too much on data, without stopping to consider its implications, or its possible errors or misleading aspects. I have based this argument largely off of Michael J. Kramer’s Reinventing the Wheel, in which he effectively conveys the responsibilities that are inherent on behalf of the searcher when consulting data results, in his admonishment that “The danger here is that we are not thinking carefully about the framework in which Digital Humanities
might thrive and contribute to society beyond assumptions about technology solving all problems…” This is a highly impactful statement, as it highlights the tendencies, when the digital humanities and their associated tools are enlisted, for users to either uncritically accept data as the truth, or otherwise, dismiss the value of data to the humanities, altogether. An excessive faith in technology, as in other fields, such as science and environmental politics, may often lead to overconfidence in its ability, causing critical concerns and issues requiring intellect to be largely
overlooked. An example, in terms of the English 203 research course, would be accepting the data of word seer and its word frequencies extracted from Hamlet to represent the theme of the text, and the overall message, without closed reading to identify the integral context of the play. While word seer, in revealing words such as “death” to be frequently occurring throughout the text, may allow one to develop the opinion that the play largely circulates around death and murder, without the context achieved through reading the play, these artificial suppositions are virtually meaningless, as these words could conceivably occur frequently in a comedy about love, as well. In other words, data without a context is merely an assumption, even if it closely represents details that are consistent with the theme of a literary work.

“We can be critically self-reflective and move forward,” are Michael J. Kramer’s optimistic words, regarding the digital humanities. This belief conforms to the idea expressed throughout this post, that, with a sufficient amount of critical guidance and thought, data and context or qualitative textual elements can be intimately joined with one another. Kramer consistently articulates the importance of retaining the methods
of critical thinking in traditional textual analysis, well exemplified through his observation that “…there’s nothing wrong with being excited about the fresh, unprecedented, and surprising places that the digital takes us, so long as those are not placed in direct opposition to the rich past of humanities scholarship that we can draw upon…”. In other words, the digital humanities and the broader spectrum of the humanities may be joined, and data has inherent value, so long as it is evaluated through the critical lens of traditional textual analysis methods, such as careful and
rigorous rereading of texts.

Reflection on the English 203 Course and Conclusion

The fundamental concept that I learned throughout the English 203 course was that nothing is complete at face value—different interpretations exist, and new approaches, such as the use of digital tools, are necessary to furthering understandings of texts, in this case, Hamlet. Critical thinking has been a staple aspect to this course, as, when one is consulting data, they must be aware of what it implies, and how it can be applied to form conclusions. This course has also been instrumental in improving my digital literacy, as I am now able to more readily apply word seer to my research, for near instant results. Additionally, the course has encouraged me to consider the impact of qualitative details within texts more
carefully—ironically, the incorporation of data into my studies of textual analysis has helped me to better understand the importance of words, and how they are dispersed throughout a text(such as the potential significance of the word “disposition” to Hamlet’s behaviour, discussed earlier.) I am now more open-minded in regards to the potential for digital tools and data to supplement closed reading, so long as the two approaches are applied in unison with one another.

To briefly reiterate my argument, based upon the blog post of Michael J. Kramer, and my experiences and work throughout the course, I have concluded that the digital humanities and the humanities, and the quantitative and the qualitative  may blend with one another
to form a cohesive unit, so long as critical thinking is applied to addressing quantitative data that is retrieved using digital humanities approaches.
I then aimed to reaffirm this assertion with a Hamlet case study, a description of word seer’s  potential as a digital tool and its capacity to join the quantitative and the qualitative, and the prospects of the digital humanities and the traditional humanities being
considered as one—similar to the view of Michael J. Kramer, who effectively depicts the relationship as “…not a revolution away from the humanities, but a turn more fully into the humanities.”

 

Works Cited

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

 

 

Voyant Tools analyze Voyeur blog posts

Phase 3 of English 203 is partly about reflecting on the process from January to now, so I thought I would initiate them with a bit of meta-analysis.

I was wondering what Voyant Tools could reveal about the blog posts in English 203, so I pasted the URL for the Voyeur category into the “Add Texts” search box and clicked the “Reveal” button. Here’s what came out:

What it shows is that those 33 posts there are 18,380 words (or ‘tokens’) and 2,789 unique words (or ‘types’). After eliminating the stop words I found that the most common words were voyeur, hamlet, act, words, and tools.

Here’s a longer list, so you can see relative frequencies. What’s interesting here is that voyeur outnumbers voyant by 186 to 30. A lot of the words relate to the mechanics of the course: posted, group, phase, blog. Love and death — those eternal themes! — are present, and characters.

So I hope this brief post has piqued your curiosity about the kinds of results you can get when you use the same tools on the texts you’ve generated yourselves.