Utilizing Voyant for Distant Reading tools

Voyant is a great resource to find trends in specific documents. In particular, I will be using “Collocate Clusters” to make connections between words and ideas in a series of comprised diary entries by James Merrill Linn. In Linn’s diary, he writes, “War is horrible. I first saw the pomp & circumstance – the battle field – the dead and wounded now the prison ship.” The hypothesis poses the question, “For Linn, is this a turning point where he loses his innocence?” Using Voyant to see relationships between words, I will analyze to see if I can draw any conclusions from this hypothesis.

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Relationship between “boat” and “men” in Linn’s diary entries

At first, I tried using word cloud to look at trends in the diary. The two words that stood out to me were “boat” and “men”. Boat did not appear to be as prominent as other words, as boat was only used 81 times in the diary entries. However, after transcribing a diary page about Linn’s experience boating, there were many words that related to boat in the diary, including men, captain, and regiment. Instead of using word cloud, I decided to look at the relationship between boat and other common words. Therefore, I added the comprised Linn diary entries and edited my settings by putting in stop words. Then, I typed in boat to see the first few connections. As a result, men not only was one of the most common words used in the entire document, but it was also related to boat in the diary.

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Relationship between “boat”, “men”, and “wounded” in Linn’s diary entries

Next, I wanted to look at connections with one of the words used in the given quote by Linn. I chose “wounded”, mostly because I remember transcribing it in my specific diary entry.  I typed “wounded” in the search bar at the top to hopefully find connections with boat and men. I found that wounded was not as commonly used in the diary as men because wounded was only used 31 times whereas men was used 133 times. Although wounded was not used as often, there was a connection to men. Therefore, wounded was indirectly connected to boat because men and boat had a greater connection.

This is useful information for distant reading because the connecting words and the sizes of the words show how often Linn used them and the major and minor connections between those words. Unfortunately, this resource does not help me come to a conclusion about Linn’s loss of innocence because it does not reveal any trends. For example, the hypothesis was asking if Linn lost his innocence halfway through the transcription but I am unable to draw any conclusions because there’s no time frame for the connections. This means that I cannot easily find within the document where and when these words were used. Word cloud may be more useful in terms of finding trends, but Links is better for making connections and seeing how words relate within a document. Using both of these tools together could be extremely beneficial by making common connections between words or ideas, and also by showing you where the words are specifically in the document and how often they are used. Because I could not draw any conclusions relative to the hypothesis, I am posing a question about distant reading in general. When doing distant reading, is it better to begin by making connections with words or by finding specific trends or patterns of the words? I believe that these distant reading tools go hand and hand; however, depending on what you are searching for, one can be more helpful than the other. In our case, when analyzing Linn’s diary, both Word Cloud and Links could be used together to find the best result.

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.