Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Voyant, Shakespeare, and the Benefits of Digital Technology

I’m an English Major and on many occasions I have had to read many classic works of literature and I have had to analyze and compare different texts. I have a process that I follow when I write essays, and I am sure many other students follow the same steps:

  1. I read the text.
  2. I highlight specific passages that make an interesting point or that I will want to find in the future.
  3. I figure out what I want to write about.
  4. I look through the text again, searching for passages that support my thesis.
  5. Write my paper.

That all probably sounds pretty familiar. Almost everyone who has had to write a paper follows that process, or at least something similar.

However, in this age of technology and algorithms, there are new applications and tools make it easier to look through texts and show readers things about classic works that they have never seen before. Voyant is a tool that does exactly that. Voyant can take dozens of documents, analyze them, and produce graphs and charts about the use of language and words in those documents and compare their usage.

By putting 23 Shakespeare plays into Voyant, the tool can tell me that “SHALL” is the most common word in throughout those plays. Voyant can also tells me that Hamlet is the longest text of the 23 documents with 34,183 words and that Comedy of Errors is the shortest with 18,080 words.

Do you want more? OK. Othello is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. If you have not read it I suggest you do, it is a beautiful tragedy. If I am writing a paper about Othello, I will probably write about the love between Othello and Desdemona, the hate Iago has for Othello, and all of the death and murder that occurs in the play. With Voyant, I can see how often the words “LOVE”, “HATE”, and “DEATH” occur in the text, as well as how frequent they appear throughout the play.

Voyant.Othello.Chart002

As you can see, “LOVE” and “DEATH” are not mentioned in the beginning but the word “HATE” is there. In fact, “LOVE” is not mentioned at all but the word “DEATH” becomes really common in the end. I think that this information is interesting because it says something about the relationship between the characters and it also says something about the mood. There is a lack of love and death is a specter that hangs over the play.

Voyant can do so much more, and there are probably other programs that can do even more than Voyant. I think that Voyant and similar applications, show that digital technology and algorithms have a benefit to humanists who want to examine classic works in way that is faster and perhaps more efficient than spending hours or days, reading and carefully examining each line of text.

5 Comments

  1. I agree that Voyant benefits scholars in writing essays. It could make the essay writing process a lot more efficient than before.

  2. While I do write in opposition of Voyant’s merits, I do feel that using it would certainly make research easier, but I digress.

    Many students have explained of the merits of Voyant, so I will discuss of the potential demerit(s). Voyant would certainly act as an excellent research assistant. However, perhaps it oversimplifies the work too much. As many people have advocated, there needs to be a human element to digital devices. This human stems from quality control. Returning to its use as an aid for research, with Voyant filtering all of the information, there may be some interesting notes that are missed that would have enhanced the research. After all, reading the background information is what helps a person understand the remaining of the text. While studious students would choose to read the surrounding text, many others would forego that task, leaving it up to Voyant to help them glean information. Voyant feels too much like a cheat code or shortcut. Completing research manually would give a person a greater knowledge of the subject, which is what it is supposed to. Note that this applies to those who are new at the subject. For well-established researchers who understand the topic, as I stated before, it would suffice as an excellent research assistant.

  3. While I am not an English Major, I somehow always find my way into classes where the professor likes to assign multiple research papers. Usually, I find that the information-gathering stage of writing a research paper can be the most problematic, because for every good source on the internet, there is likely three times the amount of poor sources. A program like Voyant can be an invaluable tool to someone in the information gathering stage of writing a paper as you can quickly scan and filter out sources that will not work based on their content, without having to read them in their entirety. I know that in the future I plan on making use of Voyant when I have to write another research paper.

  4. That’s a nicely made answer to a cheglanling question

  5. I say Holiday 1 or Holiday 2 because they are the closet but holiday has green eyes and I’d say Burnett 1 or Burnett 4 but Burnett is tan but they are the closest… I love the Shadow Falls series so I keep tabs on everything

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