Digital Humanities Project

September 14th, 2011

Eng170w Ngram Viewer Results    Wordle

Some people would say that technological advancements improve our way of life while others say that it is a new way to perform an old task. As the younger generations have invented a plethora of new gadgets , the past generations find this so called “electronically forward” style to be overly complicated and confusing. Those that refuse to learn new technology will be left behind. Especially since as our world becomes more technological, past disciplines are renovated and  different ways of learning are abundant. One of the newer disciplines is digital humanities: the intersection of digital technology and analytical methods to study the human condition. Although this facet can be a very helpful tool to connect to a text from a different stand point it is not the best way to interpret literature but rather  a reinforcing practice.

In recent times, today’s scholars are using digital humanities to reinvestigate pre-established events in history. This investigation had uncovered new information about influential occurrences and enhanced our understanding. This is especially true in Middlebury College in Vermont. Students there have used digitally enhanced geographical maps that create a virtual visualization of the battlefield at Gettysburg. This reconstruction of the battlefield allows the viewer to have a more authentic and realistic image of the events and challenges that soldiers faced at the time of battle. “ ‘Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know’ ”,(Cohen C1) says a fellow geographer. This technology is characterizes spatial humanities and it was used to reinforce and apply traditionally historical information to create a digital application that heightens the understanding of the original concept.

Digital humanities has a few different sub-disciplines that when applied strategically can be very beneficial to understanding a once obscure or vague concept. Similar to the incite provided by the digitally enhanced map of Gettysburg, the Ngram viewer also correlates traditionally quantitative data into a form that can used to obtain qualitative data. When researching the short story The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots, I used the Ngram viewer to research reoccurring themes and concepts of my story. The data that was uncovered helped me draw conclusions about the literary direction during the era that the story was published. I learned that at the time that the story was published that some terms were more frequently used in literature that others. This led to further research that qualitatively investigated the purpose or hidden message that the author was trying to convey to his audience.

In contrast to the Ngram viewer’s strengths, its weakness is that it may  confuse the user that doesn’t have a clear idea of how to use the quantitative data which it provides to access qualitative data that may help to further interpret literature. The Ngram viewer operates by inputting words and a time frame and outputting a graph that documents the popularity of the selected terms over time. Without the context of a prompt or a motive, this information can seem trivial and vague. This technology is best used in conjunction with something more traditional like a historical analysis of some sort of literary style in an specified era. The Ngram viewer also provides time frames that display different literary pieces that contain the previously selected terms. These pieces may or may not show correlation between each other and this may leave the reader with a sense of vagueness and overwhelming.

Another debatable digital humanity tool is the wordle. A wordle is a tag cloud composed of words that are extracted from a selected text. In the perspective of digital humanities, a wordle is not the most useful tool because it doesn’t provide any additional incite towards the selected literature. Instead, it is just a collection of randomly chosen words whose prominence doesn’t necessarily reflect its importance to the text. It seems as if wordle is digital way to pick words from inside a hat. The wordle is not the best way to interpret literature, in fact it may be the worst way to interpret literature because of its random nature. It is a visual image that is formed independently from the abstract of the text.

A wordle’s strength lies in its attention grabbing collage of terms that reinvents the text in an alluring manner. Its intrigues the reader to further investigate the connection that the terms have toward each. However it isn’t the best way to use digitally humanities to interpret literature.

Digital humanities is a growing discipline that has many software programs that enhance our understanding of literature. These programs are best used in conjunction with traditional methods of analyzing literature.  Even though these softwares add an innovative way to analyze a literary text, they can be limited in their accuracy to find the meaning in a text when used independently from traditional methods. The Ngram viewer’s strength is that it’s a helpful tool for quantitative data could be analyzed qualitatively by providing an opportunity for speculation on what society was like by analyzing that words that were used during a specific time. It is limited in its ability to provide a specific and direct central idea. The wordle is advantageous in the regard that it intrigues the reader however it is unsuccessful as a tool to interpret literature.


Work Cited

Cohen, Patricia. “Digital Maps are Giving Scholars the Historical Lay of the Land.” New York Times 26 7 2011, C1. Web. 19 Dec. 2011.








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