Letters vs. Diaries

Through this final project, I wanted to find out if James Merrill Linn wrote differently to his mother and brother than he did in his diary entries that we analyzed earlier this year. I also thought it would be interesting to analyze the different ways in which he address his mother versus his brother. In order to accomplish this goal I decided to collaborate with my classmate Rachel Harmatz that way we would have double the data to work with. I began by transcribing a letter that James Merrill Linn wrote home to his brother John on February 11th, 1862, while Rachel worked on transcribing a letter written home to his mother on February 19th, 1862. We purposely picked two letters that were written around the same time chronologically to allow us to make a stronger comparison.

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Drawing seen in letter to John

Although the transcription process was made much easier by working with a partner, Rachel and I still faced some difficulties. For example, there was a part of the letter to John in which there was an image drawn over the words. This made seeing the words underneath a very difficult process for us. However, I think that the image might be a drawing of the company houses that he previously discusses. Therefore, even though the image serves a purpose, it made reading the letter much harder. In the letter to James Merrill Linn’s mother he also drew a picture, however the words were on either side of the picture so it did not interfere. We are not sure as to why in this case the image was not drawn in the same fashion. Additionally, there were some individual words that both of us were not able to figure out, even in context. We went to the archive to look at the original document, but even when looking at this, some of the words were still indecipherable.



For our next step we decided to color code before tagging through oxygen because we both found this a useful step while working with Linn’s diary entries. We agreed on which tags would be useful to us, and created our own key for the colors to code with. One difference between coding these letters from when we coded Linn’s diary entries, was that we decided to take advantage of the “affiliation” tag. For example, we chose to mark North Carolinians as an affiliation, because they are not just people, they are people affiliated with a specific place. This process of coding allowed us to easily see visually which word types were more prominent, which will be very useful for our analysis. We then coded using TEI before transferring this word document into oxygen so that we could create our digital edition.

Another means in which we thought would provide us with useful analysis was Voyant tools. Voyant tools allow us to see which specific words are most prominently used. Since we want to compare both the letters to John and his mother, and the letters as a whole to the diary entries, we decided to make several cirrus’ through Voyant. We made one of the letter to John, one of the letter to the mother, one of both the letters, and one with both the diary entries. We did not think it would be necessary to make two separate cirrus’ for Rachel and I’s diary entries because we deemed them similar enough.

After all these steps were completed, we were finally able to begin our analysis. Through analyzing all three documents (diary entries, letter to John, and letter to mother) through TEI and Voyant tools, I can conclude that the context he includes in each document varies considerably. The diary entries are very factual and provide a play-by-play of James Merrill Linn’s days. On the other hand, the letter home to his mother is much more personal. The letter home to John falls somewhere in the middle of the diary entries and the letters home to his mom. The letter home to John includes a mix of factual information related to his war experiences and personal emotional experiences.

Voyant cirrus of diary entries

The analysis of the diary entries has been done previously in the year. We coded the diary entries, and through this we were able to discover that the diary entries heavily focused on people, objects, and places that directly involved him in the moment. Additionally, through close reading we observed that Linn focuses on weather and the specific time of day in which he goes to certain places. He also focuses on specific accounts and details of the war. This led me to believe that Linn wrote the diary entries for himself as a reference that he could look back to in order to trace his past steps and remember when certain events took place. Additionally, the Voyant cirrus served as a very helpful form of analysis. Voyant tools allows the viewer to see which words come up the most throughout the document. The words that are at the center and the largest in the screenshot are the most prominent. The words that are the largest all relate directly to the war, such as, killed, capt, battle, men, col, boats, island, barracks, quarters, and gun. This shows that Linn was very concerned in his diaries to have an accurate account of each day during the war. Although this would serve as very helpful in order to map James Merrill Linn’s path, through this we do not get to know Linn on a personal level. I was curious to see if Linn also wrote to his mother and brother, John, about these same details, or if he opened up about his experiences and emotions to them.

After transcribing the letters to John and Linn’s mother, and analyzing both of them through TEI and Voyant tools, it can be concluded that both of these letters are much more personal in comparison to the diary entries. Some aspects that made these letters more personal was that they included stories and Linn expressed both his humor and emotions. When reading these letters I felt a closer connection to Linn than I felt while reading any of Linn’s diary entries. However, one main distinction between the letter to John and the letter to his mother was that the letter to John still included specific accounts and details from the war, where as this was not seen as much in the letter to his mother.



Through analyzing James Merrill Linn’s letter to his mother, I believe that its purpose served to inform his mother of how he was doing through telling her stories of his personal experiences. For example, Linn includes his responsibilities, i.e. being military commander, and what he specifically does such as issuing out food and arranging cooking. Additionally, there are many instances after doing a close reading that led me to see that Linn cares deeply for his mother. For example, in one part of the letter, he discusses how he wants his mother to know that he is safe, and apologized for being too busy to write. Also, even by just taking a glimpse at the color coding document, I can see that grey is one of the most commonly seen colors, which corresponds to states, i.e. emotion. However, I remember from coding Linn’s diary entries that states was one of the least seen word types. Throughout this letter to his mother, Linn expresses emotion heavily. For instance, he expresses excitement when he talks about the amazing food he receives. Through the voyant cirrus, we were able to see that two commonly used words were hope and wish. This illustrates that Linn was very expressive throughout the letter of his feelings. Lastly, it is important to note that in order to make his mother feel connected to his life, he includes funny stories. One story that I enjoyed from this letter was how one of the doctors mistook a man named Foster, as General Foster, and did not notice until after he finished treating the man. Therefore, although Linn does not focus heavily on accounts related to his war experiences, some stories about the battles and prisoners do come up in this letter on some occasions.

Letters to John

Voyant cirrus of letter to John

The context of the letter to James Merrill Linn’s brother, John, had a balance between war accounts, and personal details. This letter was not nearly as factual as the diary entries, but  discussed details of war significantly more than he did to his mother. When analyzing the color coding document for the letter to John, one of the most commonly seen colors is light green, which correlates to affiliation. Some things that we categorized as affiliation are regiments and companies. Since these word types are seen frequently, we can conclude that Linn discusses specific occurrences that happen during his time at war a good amount. However, this does not mean that Linn cares about his mother more than his brother, it might be because his brother is a boy and can relate to these types of details better. For example, Linn discusses his fraternity Phi Kappa Psi in this letter, which is something reasonable for his brother to be more interested in than his mother. Looking at the Voyant of the letter to John also proves this point. Some of the most used words relate to war such as company, men, island, wounded, and condition. However, unlike the Voyant of the diary entries, not all of the words are solely related to war. This letter did have some emotional and personal aspects and Linn took the time to let John know that he is safe and he explained his living situation and gave him details such as the good bread the cook heats up for him. Therefore, the context included in the letter to John was a nice mix between the other two documents. Linn did not only discuss details of the war, but through this letter we also go to learn about him and his experiences on a personal level.

Overall, this project allowed me to compare the writings of James Merrill Linn, and this analysis was made possible through both TEI and Voyant tools. I thought it was interesting to learn about the different aspects of his life Linn decided to mention and discuss in his own diary, versus to his mother and brother. It is important to note that my personal interpretations played a huge role in the coding that I did and therefore the conclusions that I made. A different person could have chose to code different word types, and based off of that come up with different conclusions. Despite this fact, I enjoyed this project very much and it was nice to get to know more about James Merrill Linn and not just of his whereabouts during the war.

The links to my digital edition and TEI file can be opened through the links below…



Works Cited

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. February 5-7, 8-12, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.
Linn, James Merrill. Letter to John. February 11, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.
Linn, James Merrill. Letter to Mother. February 19, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.


Experiences while mapping


Preview of my map

Although my experiences with mapping were very frustrating, I cannot deny that mapping is indeed very useful. For starters, as Bodenhamer mentioned in his article mapping provides for an “unparalleled ability to manage and visualize data within a spatial context,” and I whole-heartedly agree with this statement (17). Mapping can also allow for the researcher to make connections and observations, that could not have otherwise been made through the text.

For example, my classmates and I used ArcGIS in order to tell a story through James Merrill Linn’s diary entries. Through this exercise, I now have a much better understanding of Linn’s participation in the Civil War and his whereabouts. Through merely reading the diary entry, it is hard to understand and visualize where exactly Linn is topographically. The maps allowed me to learn that the terrain that Linn and the first brigade was marching through during the Battle at Roanoke was swamps. Linn does not mention swamps specifically in my diary entry, however, by collaborating with my classmate Sam and taking a look at his map I can hypothesize that this is the case. I can come to this conclusion because my map shows both General Reno’s first brigade and General Foster’s second brigade marching towards an area that is a swamp on Sam’s map. Additionally, I was able to learn of James’ Meriil Linn’s participation in the war since General Reno is James Merrill Linn’s commander, I think it is safe to assume that Linn is a part of this second brigade.

Secondly, as Bodenhamer mentioned, “GIS provides a way to manage, relate, and query events, as well as to visualize them” (21). This is definitely a true statement, as I was able to tell a story through10808098_10152962550098777_821413876_n my map. More specifically, on Sunday February 9th, Linn discusses in his diary entry going to see three forts. However, through his readings it is impossible for the reader to know which specific forts he is referring to. The one thing Linn does mention about each fort is how many guns is at each fort. Through this little bit of information, and with the help of the map, I was able to discover Linn’s path and which forts he visited on this day. I was able to do so because one of the maps had both the names of the forts and guns listed. I was able to connect how many guns mentioned in his diary to the number mentioned on the map to discover that Linn started south at Fort Bartow, then worked his way north to Fort Blanchard, and ended at Fort Huger. I would not have been able to make these connections without the help of mapping. I also liked the map notes feature of ArcGIS which allows us to attach notes to a point, path, etc. that we made. The map notes allows us to give the public evidence of our work. Overall, mapping provided me with an image that allows me to clearly visualize and better understand Linn’s journey.

Although there are many benefits that can come about from mapping, there are also many downfalls that I came across while using ArcGIS. While using ArcGIS I found myself questioning its reliability several times. When first working with ArcGIS, I was looking into battles that the north won during the Civil War in the year 1862. I was intrigued and began looking into the details of this war that ArcGIS provided. However, I was saddened when a lot of the statistics read -0.99. I remember specifically this was the number that appeared next to causalities. This does not make sense as a statistic, and when I asked one of my professors, they responded that this is the number that appears when the website does not know the statistic. I normally would not have had too much of an issue with this, but the website does not allow for the user to change the number. Therefore, even if I discover the correct number by doing research, there is no way for me to input that information which I find very frustrating. These observations also goes along with Bodenhamer’s argument that “the precision that is necessary for statistical work does not admit readily the sort of evidence used by most humanists” (20). Another issue I found relating to reliability was that on three different maps Fort Huger appeared in different places. These specific instances made me question in what other ways ArcGIS might also be unreliable.

Despite these downfalls, I definitely think that mapping can be used to help visualize and manage events in a spatial medium. I personally learned a lot about Linn through mapping his experiences, and I think mapping can also benefit others in similar ways for other projects.

This is the link to my mapping project: http://bit.ly/1BNvkrf

Things I learned through tagging

The process of marking up my transcription was definitely very helpful as it allowed me to make observations that I would not have otherwise made. The first step was for us to tag people, places, objects, events, etc. in our our own diary entry. Before doing the markups in XML, we made a class google document with all of our diary entries in order. Each category (people, places, objects, etc.) eScreen Shot 2014-10-26 at 5.45.56 PMach had its own color and we were instructed to highlight the words accordingly. For me, this was the most useful step. During this step was when I decided which words were important enough to be highlighted. For example, a person was referred to in Linn’s entry as “gentleman,” but I decided that he was someone Linn saw in passing and was not essential to be marked up.

Another helpful part of this step was that when each of my classmates and I finished the markups I was able to scroll through the document and see which color was the most prominent. It turned out that blue and orange, which represented people and objects, appeared to be the two most seen colors. On the other hand, red represented events and this was probably the most seldom seen color. This allowed me to observe that Linn did not view the specific events, accomplishments, or defeats of the battle as significant to write about, but instead Linn focused on the people and objects that directly involved him on a day-to-day basis.

Lastly, through scrolling through the document I was able to see that each person chose to focus on tagging different word types. For example, there were some diary entries that had numerous purple markups (dates and times) and others that had zero. I do not think that this difference came about because of Linn, but this occurred because of the students’ different ideas of what they viewed as important.  This observation connects heavily to the Pierazzo reading. Pierazzo focused a lot on how the digital medium allows for greater possibilities for representation, which proved to be true. Additionally, I was able to see the large role individuality and perspective plays in marking up documents that Pierazzo discussed. By actually completing markups and comparing mine to that of my classmates, I now agree with Pierazzos statement that, “a digital edition includes features of the original document that are considered meaningful to the editors” (475). The digital edition is exactly so, but I may be difficult to understand this without actually going through the process for yourself.

After highlighting in the google document, we used XML in order to tag the words. Personally, I think it is significantly harder to make observations in this medium. This is because the google document allowed for both close and distant reading analyses to be made, which cannot be done using the XML. In XML only close reading analysis can be easily made. I definitely used this method as for each word that I tagged, I first analyzed the importance of it in terms of Linn and his entry. Based on my analysis I decided whether the word was worth being tagged.  This connects to another central topic of Pierazzo’s article, which was on “when to stop.” Since the digital world does not place many limitations on the editors, how do the editors know enough is enough? Personally, I believe it is better to under tag than over tag, because if every other word is tagged it is harder to see what is truly meaningful.

Another aspect of this project that was an eye-opener for me was the class debate. During this class, I felt like I was at an editorial staff meeting. We were sitting in a circle comparing specific words that some of us tagged as different word types. For example, cossack was a word that was of huge debate. A portion of the class felt that cossack was a place, but others argued that it was an object. It was interesting to take part in this debate and to in the end agree on one of the two. As a class we decided to mark cossack as an object. We came to this conclusion because although sometimes cossack is mentioned as a place in which Linn is going to, this is not always the case. However, it can not be argued against that cossack is always an object since it is a boat. I thought it was very interesting to see how much passion was put into this argument over tagging one single word.

I also found that this act of collaboration was helpful in enhancing my TEI file. Prior to this class, I did not go into detail on any of my tags. I merely used the word categories given to me, without further identifying. As a class we agreed that Beaver was someone of importance based on how frequently he Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 5.59.56 PMwas discussed throughout the diary entries. Since he was important, we decided to give him an attribute. As a group we thought it was appropriate to give Beaver the type military.

I definitely had a lot of fun doing this project and I learned a lot about digital editions and the battles that editors can face in the process of publishing. Sometimes freedom is a bad thing because it can be difficult to place limits on oneself. Although a digital edition will never be the same as its source document I enjoyed trying to preserve it as much as I could. For example, in the TEI the line breaks match up with that of the original copy. I also kept Linn’s abbreviations such as his ampersands. Although there are some aspects that can not be replicated, such as the specific spacings between his written words, it is important to maintain as much as the digital allows.

Downfalls of TimeMapper

Throughout my past experiences, I always believed that timelines were very useful in terms of understanding history. For starters a good timeline is aesthically pleasing and they can provide a perspective of important events occurring throughout the world. For example, when I am learning about the Civil War I can take a look at a timeline and see what events are occurring in other areas and see if they are relevant as timelines allow for easy comparisons, patterns to be observed, and interpretations to be made. In the article, Rosenberg and Grafton put a lot of emphasize on lines as the means of representing time. This illustrates how simple but still useful timelines can be. One simple line can give “visions of past and future,” which illustrates the importance of chronology (Rosenberg, Grafton, 11). Chronology is significant in understanding history because events in the past, drive the future. Through studying time, historians can make assessments as to why certain events occurred and what spurred them on. It is important to note that although a timeline may appear as simply a line, the makers of timelines must be given a lot of credit. Timelines can be difficult to create as Rosenberg and Grafton point out, because the events must “be revealed as possessing a structure, an order of meaning, that they do not possess as mere sequence” (11). It is not enough to place events together, they should have a deeper meaning that can be analyzed.

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Although I am a huge proponent of timelines, I do not find the TimeMapper that we made in this class very helpful. The timeline is very squished together which makes it difficult to search for connections among the events. Additionally, events related to history, sports, english, and miscellaneous events are all put together on the timeline. It would have been more helpful if we split up the events by category in order to make the events easier to analyze. The way I went about analyzing the connections and relevance among the events was by clicking each one and reading through the description given. By doing so, I was able to find some interesting connections. This timeline made it possible for me to discover that in the 1860’s the Suez Canal opened, the first bicycle was invented, the Pony Express was founded, and the first continental railroad was constructed. All of these four events are related to traveling and communication, which makes me wonder if there is a reason as to why they were invented around the same time, and if the makings of one or two inspired the others to be created. I would not be able to dig deeper into this connection if this timeline did not help me notice that they all began in the same period of time.

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One aspect of the TimeMapper that I did think was useful was the map. The map had blue ticks of where each event took place, and by scrolling over the blue ticks, you could see which event occurred there. For example, through the map I can find out that the First Transcontinental Railroad Construction occurred in North America. I could then continue clicking through the blue ticks on North America to discover other important events that happened in the 1860’s. I think that it is important to not only analyze events by times, but also by location too.

Since James Merrill Linn only discuses events that are specifically related to hScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 7.32.42 PMim, and not in the world around him this timeline serves as a useful tool to enlighten us of the global issues and accomplishments of Linn’s time. For example, through this timeline I was able to discover that in 1861 the Fall of Fort Sumter was the battle that began the Civil War. This is important because it gives background to Linn’s experiences during the Civil War, and we can literally see where his diary entries fit in. There are other events that are specifically relevant to Linn and the Civil War such as the secession of the Southern States. Through this timeline I learned of important events that occurred both prior and during the war that Linn failed to discuss or mention in his diary entries.

Analysis of Distant Reading

In this post I will examine distant reading. Distant reading definitely has its benefits, but can it help to prove or refute a hypothesis? I am wondering whether coming about halfway through the text if James illustrates a profound shift in perception, and did he demonstrate a loss of innocence? I am going to use Voyant tools, a website which allows for analysis through distant reading, to see if I can gather some evidence to answer this question.

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Word cloud

When I inserted the diary of Linn into Voyant tools, a word cloud appears with words that are used commonly throughout this text. I scanned this word cloud in search for words that would relate to my question. The first word that stuck out to me was sick. I figured that an increase in people getting sick might change James’s perception and also might cause him to lose his innocence, which is why I chose to analyze sick as my first word. According to the word trend, Linn did not write often about sickness in the very beginning. However, there are two huge peaks. If there was one peak in the center of this plot, then that would give pretty good evidence to support my hypothesis. Unfortunately this is not the case and the decrease that occurs in between the two peaks provides me with confusing data. Why was there a sudden decrease before Linn picked back up and starting writing more frequently again about sickness? Although I have a few questions about the data, it does show me that from the beginning to the end there is definitely an increase in Linn’s writing of illness. This increase might have been a factor that caused Linn’s perception to shift, however we cannot know for sure.

The second word I decided to take a closer look at was battle. I tried to get in the head of Linn and I decided that if I were him, battle would definitely be something that would alter my perception and take away my innocence. The word trend shows me that at the very beginning, Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.40.39 PMbattle was hardly ever written about. There was a slow increase, followed by a huge peak. The peak appears roughly halfway through the entry which would support my hypothesis. Battle became a huge part of Linn’s writing at this point and stayed important to him throughout the rest of the time he was there. It seems that once Linn began to focus on battle, he could not stop writing about it. This trend provides me with pretty good evidence that something changed about halfway through his journals, and he had a shift in the material that he chose to write about. Both of these words have similar frequencies, sick appearing 35 times, and battle appearing 38 times. The word trend of both sick and battle shows me that both of these things became more and more prominent in his life, which illustrates a change. Although this prominence is not enough to prove my hypothesis, it does support it.

This exercise taught me how helpful distant reading can truly be. If I were using close reading this task would have definitely been much harder and more time consuming. I would have had to read through the whole text and pay close attention to a shift in attitude. It would have been nearly impossible to track certain words such as battle and sick while doing a close reading. The word trends were extremely helpful in analyzing the text, as they show the frequency of specific words, I can easily see important shifts. This exercise truly opened up my eyes and I have a new appreciation for distant reading as a means of analysis.