September 14th, 2011

Digital Humanities

Posted by sasha in

Wordle: A Scandal in Bohemia



(The above thumbnails are all clickable =D )

While Wordle and Ngram Viewer are helpful tools for literary interpretation, they can’t be singled out as the “best way to interpret literature.” As with traditional literary interpretation, such as reading a piece and discussing it in a classroom setting, there are pros and cons to the use of each. There is no single “best way.” If anything, the “best way” would be a combination of different methods – technological and traditional.

The Wordle and Ngram could be tools that open up the window to doing more research. For example, a search on “photograph” and various other illustrative mediums within the time period of 1830 to 1930 with the Ngram Viewer would show a sudden appearance and increase of “photograph” around 1860, while “painting” began to decrease. From these results, we can infer that writers began to write about photographs for the first time in history. But when was the photograph invented? The Ngram Viewer results would lead a researcher to look up this information to aid in their understanding of a story where photographs are pivotal, and also one that takes place in 1890, within a reasonable time of the Ngram Viewer. This information ads importance to certain aspects of the story. The technology plays an important role as a research tool for understanding the specific piece of literature.

As for the Wordle, “prominence vs. importance” of the enlarged words is what propagates literary interpretation. In the Wordle, words that appear the most often are presented larger. This alone creates many opportunities for various interpretation. A word that appears often could or could not make it the most important word in the story. It’s a matter of the reader’s analysis. Is Sherlock Holmes the most important because he appears the most often in the story, or is it a matter of prominence? Does this make the story driven mainly by his character within the plot? Or is the plot most important, even though key plot points show up as almost minuscule words? Also, the reader’s interpretation of the literature is expressed through the way they choose to arrange their Wordle. Everything from colors, to word isolation lends to this visual description of their interpretation. The visual grabs the reader with its isolation of the larger words. It provides a focused beginning for research and interpretation. The Wordle helps to make connections that can then be researched in the Ngram Viewer. For example, connections can be made between the time the story was written, for example, 1890 and its contents, again an example, of a photograph. One sees “photograph” presented largely in the Wordle, and when planted in the Ngram, its seen that the photograph was invented not long before that. Can it be interpreted that this makes the simple possession of a photograph that much more special in 1890? The technology leads to more questions, more research, and ultimately to a more specific understanding. The reader can cater to themselves and build on their own interpretation.

There are still, however, limitations to both of these tools if they are used as the sole methods of interpretation. With Wordle and Ngram, the reader is seeing only the raw data taken from various stories. The Wordle only shows us what words appear the most often. It’s up to the reader to determine if these words are prominent, important, or both. It doesn’t tell us the answer. The Ngram Viewer gives us how many times a specific word appears in texts throughout history. Again, this is raw data for us to interpret. The reader could be missing something completely by typing in certain words and not others for the graph, or maybe the Wordle leads them to make false assumptions about the story. When looking at raw data, we face the same problem as when a story isn’t looked at from different angles or on the whole. We might be missing something. We might even be making something up. These things affect the reader’s interpretation. This is where a partnership with traditional methods of literary interpretation comes in. The blanks can be filled in. The old meets the new and it deepens our understanding.

Wordle and Ngram are both very useful Digital Humanities tools, but their usefulness increases drastically when used in conjunction with traditional literary interpretation methods. These tools could really deepen one’s understanding of the writing, as long as various ways are used. Its much easier to learn by comparing and contrasting, as opposed to comparing alone.

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7 Responses to ' Digital Humanities '

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  1.    mchan said,

    on October 5th, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    This one is great! Like mine, the names are pretty big. I’m surprised to see “one” and “majesty” so big, I haven’t read this short story so I look forward to seeing what it means!

  2.    mikadroz said,

    on October 5th, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I really like how ‘Holmes’ is so large and yet washed out from the others, almost as if he’s just lurking in the background.

  3.    jkauffman said,

    on October 5th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I love the colors and the font that you chose! It seems to match your title perfectly.

  4.    Henna said,

    on October 6th, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Both of our Holmes’ devour their respective Wordles! Watson doesn’t seem to have much of a presence, huh. guess you have to expect that as narrator.

  5. on October 12th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Yeah, this is good. Like you I believe that the digital humanities leades to more wurstions but no real answers. It all very raw data and means nothing unless interpreted. I do agree that the best way to understand literature would be a combination of the two, but in all honesty the digital humanities is just a fancy term for “Googling Words in a Book”…forgive me if that sounds harsh lol.

    But like we were saying in class D.H. has importance but not as much as traditional ways of understanding literature do.

  6.    Kevin L. Ferguson said,

    on October 15th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Sasha,

    Good response; I especially agree with your central argument that “there is no single best way.” Rather, a combination of methods is the best approach (and perhaps that combination would also change depending on the text). And thinking about this stuff as “raw data” is a good way to approach it; it’s something the New Critics would say about literature itself.

    I like the photograph example you begin with–do you think Ngram is primarily useful for historical texts? That is, would it be as useful for a story published 5 years ago as for one published 100 years ago? I think it’s also a fantastic observation that, given the date of the invention of photography, having a character possess a photograph might be more meaningful when we take into account the date of the story. It wouldn’t be a big deal now for someone to have a photo (or wait–maybe with digital photos it would be?).

    You raise some great questions about how to interpret the Wordle. It seems almost like chicken/egg–is Holmes important because he appears most often, or does he appear most often because he’s important? That may be another way to phrase the question of whether we should approach literature from the point of view of author or reader. Because you have a mystery story, too, we should also take into consideration that the most important words (the answer to the mystery) are likely to be most hidden, not more present.

  7.    Henna said,

    on October 16th, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Your questions were engaging and thought-provoking, but what I found most intriguing was the words you used to describe the digital tools, especially that of”raw-data,” and the relationship between Wordle and the Ngram. I applaud you on your effective delivery leading up to your conclusion: the two interpretive tools should be used in conjunction with one another for best results. Thus, giving you the best of both worlds.

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