Following our reading, and subsequent discussion on Digital Humanities, I thought it might be a good idea to look at some current examples of how we can use technology to complement our traditional methods of literary analysis. I’ve sifted through quite a bit of open access software (some good, some bad) and compiled the following overview of a few interesting examples.
Developed at the University of Utah, and interestingly billed as a tool ‘in support of close reading’, Poemage visualises the sonic topology of poems. Helpfully, the developers define sonic topology as: ‘the complex structures formed via the interaction of sonic patterns — words connected through some sonic or linguistic resemblance — across the space of the poem’.
In case you were wondering, the left-hand window allows the reader to browse sets of words according to sonic and linguistic resemblances; the middle window presents these sonically linked words in relation to the text; and the right-hand window visualises the sonic topology of the poem. Simple?
I can see how the middle window might be useful in its ability to highlight examples of sonically linked words that the reader might not immediately detect, which could then inform one’s close reading of a given poem. The right-hand window looks brilliant but I’m not sure how relevant it would be to a close reading?
Google’s Ngram Viewer allows the reader to search for certain keywords in ‘lots of books’ between user-determined dates. The online software then maps the frequency with which these words occur on a nice graph.
This could be useful for a close analysis of literary language, as the reader would be able to chart the usage of a given term throughout history, perhaps producing further questions of the text?
For example, why does the writer use a certain word if we can see that, at the time in which the book was written, it had fallen out of general usage? What does this tell us about the word choice of a given text?
Voyant is a text analysis tool that represents word frequencies in a variety of different forms. It’s really simple to use and actually provides some interesting results.
For example, I pasted the entire text of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land into Voyant and it revealed that, aside from common words like I, the, said etc. Eliot mentions the word ‘water’ 16 times.
This information, although achievable through actually counting, is laborious to determine. In this way, we can use software to speed up our close reading, and ask… what is the significance of water in Eliot’s poem?
Digital Humanities offers some interesting possibilities for the close reader that, as I stressed at the start of this post, should be viewed as a companion, rather than an alternative, to traditional methods.
It is clear that the field is still in its infancy, yet the extant tools have the potential to ask interesting questions in close readings.