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.

Digital Archive

From the first glance at the new DH sample website, you can see much improvement from the previous link. The previous link was just a list of DH projects. The new website categorized all the projects making it much easier to navigate. There are 7 categories to choose from: Archive, Visualization, Mapping, Digital Edition, Network Analysis, Textual Analysis, and Audio Analysis. Depending on what you are working on, you can easily choose a category and pick a project.

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The interface of Indegenous People Archive

The first category I looked at was Archive. I saw three DH projects that are exceptionally well designed. They are all very well put together and easy to navigate. The one that struck me the most was the Indigenous People project, which is from Bucknell Bertrand library. It is very well organized. After clicking on Exploring Collections, the site shows you every document the project has to offer. With the searching mechanism, you can choose documents depending on Content Type, Document Type, Language, and Source Library.

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A picture of a Kiowa married couple

There are many advantages in making digital artifact from archival documents. It is easily accessible and it is widely available. The problem that original documents have is that they can be easily damaged. Similar to the video we watched in class, many documents are in bad state so we don’t have access to them. By putting them online, we can preserve the documents and make it available for anyone who is interested.

The only disadvantage I can think of is the hand-on experience. When holding the documents with your own hands, you can deduct many things from its physical state and the material it is made of. Without personal touch, it is hard to empathize with subject of the document.

There will be many obstacles in creating my DH project. The main challenge would be making it easy to navigate for others. It is hard to create an interface that can help people understand my intent and my thought process.

Examination of Digital Archives

In this post I will be discussing digital archives. One specific digital archive that I will critique is the Sample DH Project. The new version of the Sample Digital Humanities Project is much more organized than the previous one we visited. On this website the projects are categorized by approach, which makes it very easy to navigate.

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As seen above, each approach has its own tab which is extremely useful. The users can now focus on analyzing whichever category they find easiest to interpret. For example, a visual person does not have to waste his or her time looking through documents, but can instead click straight to the visualization or mapping tab.

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The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo

Under the archive tab, the links are categorized very nicely. In addition to there being easy access to the link itself, there is a brief explanation provided as to what the website entails and why it is useful. This is a huge time saver, because now the user does not need to click into the link to search for this basic background information. The viewer can focus on researching and analyzing within seconds of opening the link. Additionally the information given is useful because based on the description the user can tell whether the website appeals to their interests. The database of Indigenous Peoples in North America is my favorite of the three. The website allows the user to limit the archives by content, document type, and language. This setup is very convenient, especially if the user knows exactly what kind of archive he or she would like to analyze. The Lincoln website is also very easy to navigate and breaks up its categories by topics and events. For example, if I want to learn more about the Mexican War I can click that tab and view specific documents related to this war, such as the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo featured to the left.

Creating a digital artifact from archival documents has both advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion the pros definitely outweigh the cons. For starters, a digital archive gives the public access to artifacts that they otherwise might not be able to get their hands on. Most archives are extremely private and only grant access to specialists. Additionally, digital archives are fast and easy, all the user needs is connection to the internet! Digital archives also allow for more complex research and they give the public the opportunity to reconsider materials, make connections, and conduct an interdisciplinary analysis. Even more obviously, many artifacts are so old and fragile to the point where the documents are illegible. With technology, the artifacts are now able to be preserved, transcribed, and transformed into a digital form in which the public can view, read, and analyze.

However, unfortunately digital archives take away from the experience of viewing the documents for yourself. When looking at the documents firsthand, you are able to make your own observations without being influenced by others interpretations.

When building my own digital humanities project I will face many challenges. Besides the basic obstacles that come along with making a website for the first time, there are many things that must be considered in order to create a successful project. Most importantly, the website must be organized and easy to navigate, which is definitely easier said then done.