Textual Humanities and Birds



The visualization of text has become almost a study necessity to students everywhere as technology and computers become more and more prevalent in the lives of today’s young people. As times and technology changes, so do the way people think and so do the methods in which they use to make sense out of what they are reading. Since video and imagery are more integrated into course work and study techniques it is becoming quite clear that people are using visualizations to help remember and to explain what they are learning in a clear comprehensible manner. In my opinion it is this reason that there are now multiple websites on-line that show its users via various appealing graphs how frequently certain words and phrases appear, and where in the text they occur the most and the least. From my experience of using the Voyant-tools website for this assignment, I have found that the visualising of texts would be extremely useful for me personally as a lot of my course readings are on-line and Voyant could highlight the most important (repeated) parts of the text for note-making.

As part of our latest Digital Humanities assignment we were asked to download a free text of our choice and upload this text to one of the many text-visualizing websites recommended to us by our lecturer, Shawn Day. For my Textual humanities assignment I used Project Guttenberg’s ‘Bird Houses Boys Can Build’ by Albert F. Siepert Although I have never previously read this paper before, the title caught my attention since I often tried to make my birdhouses when I was much younger. Once I downloaded the paper to my own PC, I used Microsoft Word to edit the paper (removing images and descriptions of images) so it would be compatible with Voyant. Although I had tried other sites to visualise the text, such as Wordle, I had difficulties opening and using these tools since I do not have the Java Browser Plugin.

I read the paper before I used Voyant and got descriptions of everyday birds, their preferred living arrangements and other information that would be used to make the birdhouses and the surrounding area more attractive to the birds. Once I applied the file to my chosen tool, I was struck by the different ways in which the information it gathered was displayed. The ‘cirrus’ cloud was the first thing to grab my attention. The ‘cirrus’ is an assortment of words cirr.pngchosen from the text that occur the most frequently and located in the top left of the screen. All these words were coloured differently which made it pleasant to look at and perhaps would make these key words easier to remember. The letters were also all of different sizes representing which words were repeated the most to the least. As well as all of these features you could change how many words were displayed in the cloud and were told how many times they were repeated when the mouse hovered a word. This was my favourite feature of Voyant due to the fun and colourful nature of the cloud and for the reason that it worked with the feature in the top right of the screen. This feature on the right is a multi-choice tool. What I mean by this is that it first displays a trend graph of the five most common words, which also show where in the corpus they appear the most and the least. Above this graph there are three tabs that you can click and can turn the graph into a series of links which not only shows via spider-diagram what words appear the most, but what other words they are most often put with in a sentence. The third tab shows a table of collocates which has the same function of the links, only some people who prefer lists and structure rather than an interactive spider graph would prefer to gain information through this option.

In the top middle of the screen there is a ‘reader’ which was a small window containing the entire corpus that you can scroll through. Below this reader this a small box where youbub.png can type in any word or sentence of phrase of your choice and then can easily be found by Voyant from the text. There is also a small help box next to this which explains what all the different symbols mean and how they can aid you in your search. There are two more features found at the bottom of the screen which will show you in basic terms what is the most common words and phrases on the left, and on the right the different contexts of a chosen word is displayed in either a list form, or a ‘bubblelines’ form. Bubblelines is another fun and appealing feature than shows where in the corpus certain words occurred the most.

What really appealed to me the most about all these features on Voyant is that they all interact with each other. Once a word was chosen or typed in in a certain feature, all the other features on the page will also work to display the phrases and contexts in which the word can be found. For study purposes especially this would be most helpful. For example, if a student wants to make notes on particular area of a topic, with ‘economy’ being the key word, then all mentions of the words economy along with the sentences will appear. This would cut down on a lot of time wasting that occurs when students have to read through the entire corpus when information is scattered throughout the text. Another aspect of these features that appeals to me is the fact that they ultimately give the same information, only they display it different ways, both as lists and tables and graphs and images, which makes Voyant a viable tool to almost everyone no matter what method they find suits them best as a means to study.

As someone who uses a mixture of the visual and the written for study, I have found Voyant to be an extraordinary tool that I will undoubtedly use myself.


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