Can Distant Reading Prove Hypothesis?

With respect to Professor Jackacki’s hypothesis about James’ perspective, I have used Voyant tools to attempt to either affirm or deny that James shows a loss of innocence roughly halfway through our class transcription. The words I decided to utilize during my distant reading instilled upon me new questions.


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.37.51 PM The first world I selected was “night.” This word appears 82 times throughout the text. As I clicked on the word in cirrus tool and viewed it on the word trends tool, I did not notice any patterns whatsoever. Especially during the time period Dr. J. addresses, there was a consistent frequency of the number of times night was used. It also did not appear to be too much different than the beginning diary transcripts, either.  Distant reading using this word alone, did not help with Professor Jackacki’s research question.



Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.38.10 PMHowever, when I added a second word, “boat,” I noticed a distinct interesting. I noticed these two trends were almost mirror images of each other. There seemed to be a negative correlation between talking about night and talking about boats. Whenever Linn was talking about a boat, typically the Cossack, he did not seem to be mentioning night. This leads me to the question: when Linn is on board the Cossack, is he writing at night, therefore he does not mention night, or does all the action seem to talk place during daylight hours? Why does is there this strange relationship between “boat” and “night”?


These two words do not necessarily reveal anything about Linn’s experience in battle. I just know that when talking about his boat, the Cossack, does not seem to have a correlation to his innocence or lack thereof. This plays out to be true when Linn mentions night. Unfortunately, I was unable to affirm or refute Professor Jackacki’s research question and hypothesis; yet, maybe other words will be able to. They do guide me towards the thought that Linn may have a pattern of the time he rights his diary entries.

I benefitted from using Voyant tools and feel that once I am able to come up with a better research question, I will be more successful with the program. Distant reading is a very intriguing concept and, although I was “unsuccessful” with the goal of getting to some type of conclusion over the accuracy of Professor Jackacki’s hypothesis, I have used this as an experience that can improve my skills in this field.