Monday, April 24, 2017


After navigating Gephi last week, this week's Digital Humanities Tool of the Week (DGTW?) is Voyant! Whereas Gephi is a more complicated, more intensive program, Voyant is readily accessible, and the perfect tool for those who want an easier introduction into the world of DH tools. Voyant is new to me as well, so I'm going to play around with it a bit, and share my results. 

You might know Voyant from seeing word clouds around the internet. These can be made with the Voyant program, by inputting data and adjusting settings to see the words Voyant spits back. For example, in a work where the word "cat" is input a total of 200 times, and the word "silly" is input 150 times, "cat" will be the biggest word in the cloud. This sounds silly, but isn't simplification the best?

As I've covered in readings throughout the semester, DH is complicated. There's a lot of coding and numbers, and data involved, and this kind of work isn't suited to everyone's skill set. Sometimes, it's helpful to have a preexisting program in which to input information, and use the results. Voyant fits this need. 

Here are a few examples of word clouds, from this list I found on

Isn't interesting to see what the frequency of words in a text can reveal about the text?

For this exercise, in keeping with my dystopian flare, I've chosen to put Brave New World by Aldous Huxley through Voyant, to see the kind of word cloud that emerges. Here is the link to the full text document of the book-- gotta love public domain!

This first image is a screengrab of everything that shows up on the screen when the corpus loads. Each individual box shows a different way of graphing the data in the story:

So, there's a lot to unpack here. First and foremost, the word cloud:

You can do a lot to edit the word cloud, such as expanding it to include more words, reformatting it to take a different shape, and edit the font and colors of the words.

There are a lot of other visualizations that can be applied to the data set, another option that jumped out at me was "Bubbles":

"Bubbles" took a while to sort through the 8000 words of Brave New World that were input into the program, so it took a while to work, but it was interesting to see the results. Here's a screengrab of the program running:

Here's another example of something you can do with Voyant. This tool is simply called "Link," and for this example I used a pre-existing corpus within the Voyant program-- a selection of eight Jane Austen novels. I thought that this corpus would be the perfect way to show how the "Link" tool works with a wider selection of works. Because screengrabbing capabilities are limited, let me explain, when you place your cursor on one of the words, the pathways "link" to other words that are connected. For example, the word "Mr." links to "said," "Mrs," "Knightly," "Weston," "Darcy," "Elton," and "Crawford," within the parameters of this data set.

For a fairly user-friendly program, there is so much that can be done with Voyant. If, like me, you're just getting into DH, I highly recommend playing around with this program. It's a user-friendly program and it shows you some of the cool things that can be done with a DH tool, without the complicated addition of coding. Whether this is the extent of your travels in DH, or just a stepping stone to learn more, it's worth of perusing.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

DiRT Directory & Gephi

I believe I mentioned this in my introductory comments at the beginning of the semester, but I am obsessed with interested in dystopian literature, and plan on writing my making it the topic of my thesis.

My interest in this field of literature is two-fold. First of all, dystopian worlds are particularly fascinating because they are the manifestation of people's fears of the unknown future-- usually this unknown future is filled with government control and thought-policing. These fears become all the more frightening when people start to recognize the doom of Orwell's 1984 encroaching on our own society. The second reason I am drawn to dystopian literature is because I have a great love of children's literature, and the dystopian genre has taken off in young adult and children's literature. It is interesting to me that children have always been a part of dystopian stories (for example, in 1984, children turn in their parents for wrong-think), but now they are becoming the main characters.

This is where DH comes in. I'm interested in finding programs that will help me pinpoint references to children and the theme of childhood in dystopian novels. To do this, I will need a program that takes the text I put into it, and spits out visualizations. This is where DiRT Directory comes in.

DiRT Directory is something I learned about at THATcampDC, and it has changed the course of my research. DiRT means "Digital Research Tools," and this website serves as a collection of resources that are organized by category. Each entry on the site has an about page where a synopsis of the tool is given, as well as the link to download the tool. Here's an example.

First, on the home page, you must decide the kind of tool you need for your work:

For my purposes, I looked up Visualization. This next image shows the further options that appear when a category is selected. For "Platform," I chose "Windows." For "Cost," I chose "Free."

Here are some of the programs that are listed in the results for "Visualization+Windows+Free." There are many more than are pictured, this is just a sampling.

Gephi and Weave stuck out to me as potentially helpful to my work, and so I clicked them both. Here's what the description pages look like:

DiRT Directory is an excellent resource because it offers links a multitude of programs that can be used in a multitude of ways. I decided to download Gephi because it seemed like it would be helpful, and I had heard the name tossed around at THATcampDC. With the help of DiRT Directory, I was able to pinpoint a resource which, prior to this point, had been a challenge.

Although Gephi looks daunting, I was able to harness the power of the internet to find 
tutorials and examples of how to best harness the program's power. Gephi's website is pretty straight forward in explaining the goals and usages of the program, and served as a helpful jumping-off point.

Here is a fantastic step-by-step tutorial that I found, which imports the text of Les Miserables in order to analyze connections between characters. This link was particularly helpful to me because, although Gephi can be used to visualize all kinds of data, this is the kind of data I will be working with.

Here is a slightly more complex tutorial which includes information about the coding behind the program.

This next link is also a tutorial, but I am including it to show the kinds of visualizations that can be achieved by Gephi.

"Visualizing Historical Networks" is a group of projects hosted by the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University, which utilized Gephi to "map the way people in the past interacted with each other and their surroundings." I encourage you to peruse the site, the work is fascinating!

Gephi appears to be an incredibly helpful tool, and I'm excited to play around with it in my own research!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"That" Point in the Semester: Regrouping

Friends, it has reached that point in the semester where struggle is setting in hard. There are 24 days until the end of the semester (not that I'm wearily counting), and I've started to struggle at this point in my independent study. Excuses aside, here's the long and short-- I missed my blog post last week and it's time to regroup.

During the first half of the semester, I extensively studied the reasons behind the question "Why DH?" and I think I answered them pretty conclusively. As the second half of the semester rolled around, particularly after the amazing THATcampDC, I started seeking out methodologies that I could employ in my own work. Thankfully, I have a list of helpful tools and resources that should be helpful in the next step-- and it's time to take that next step.

I missed my blog last week because I was desperately trying to reformat these last few weeks of the semester, so to get the most out of them in terms of DH practice. I'm going to be using some of the programs I've learned about in my thesis work next year, and I think it will be cool to play around with some of them at the end of this semester. 

Websites such as DiRT Directory and The Programming Historian have proven to house invaluable resources for learning the kinds of tools that would be good for my interests. I was also recommended to look at tools such as Voyant, Open Refine, and Gephi. Now that I have a new focus, I'm excited to finish off this semester strong!

In conclusion, this is the first of two blog post this week. It's time to put the theory where the work is (Is that a saying? I guess it is now.) and put some practice into this Intro to DH course. Additionally, Hailey Carone (another graduate student here at Kean) and I will be presenting our studies and practice in the digital humanities to some of our peers in the Writing Studies M.A. program on May 1st, which will be a fun culmination of the semester.

See you guys in a few days! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Virtual Stacks?

Isn't that a cool picture? I love the digital, technological representation of the library in this picture, books made of tiny pixels, sharp and glowing as the rows lead down the hallway and into the light. In a way, this is quite an apt concept of the library throughout time. As the student wanders through the rows, their knowledge increases and they step into the light of learning. Isn't this all the more accurate with the added bonus of the virtual library?

This week's chapter of A Companion to Digital Literary Studies is Chapter 29, "The Virtual Library" by G. Sayeed Choudbury and David Seaman. Choudbury and Seaman highlight the vast amount of resources that we now have at our disposal, thanks the the internet, so that anyone interested in learning is welcome to learn. Libraries now have access to the digital copies of books that they might have only dreamed of having access to in the past. We have scans of magazines at periodicals at our fingertips that date back long before the internet was a far-off dream. A student in a tiny school in Western, P.A. can have access to a multitude of works that might totally shape their field of interest, or bring them into a new world. Stepping away from academia, children around the world need only find a computer and they can learn anything-- we are no longer bound by the physical.

This also ties in nicely to my readings on digital humanities because the people who make these books available are digital humanists. The books available online were once painstakingly typed, letter by letter, by a person who wanted to catalog them online for future learners. That is an incredibly selfless, and incredibly tedious, task to take on.

So, why do it? Why bother?  

We bother because books are important and the internet is where the future is going. If we want history recorded and accessible, if we want to make the use of the tools we have, it's our responsibility to keep the virtual library in existence as a living, breathing organism.

This chapter was written 9 years ago, and it's interesting to see how much things have changed in 9 years. Choudbury and Seaman speak about the prevalence of online journals, and they have grown even more prevalent as the years have gone on. Now, if a scholar wants a relevant article written, they publish articles, and they certainly make their books available online. Much as we all love (and should preserve) traditional libraries, the traditional building simply cannot hold the vast amount of knowledge that is being produced every day by scholars with the world at their fingertips. 

Freely available collections are another novel idea to the virtual library. Although copyright laws complicate matters, many works have become legally available online. Within a few clicks, anyone, anywhere in the world, can have any information that they need. Even if the book is within copyright and cannot be obtained online, we now have applications like Google Books which allows one to search, locate, and obtain the book in a matter of minutes. 
The library tends to keep up with such developments and is a natural and willing partner with the humanities departments as they explore the possibilities such tools have for data mining and the display of results. Add to these software packages the blogs, wikis, and virtual communities that are being adopted, the digital tools for collaborative scholarship, for innovative ways of interrogating text, and for new teaching possibilities, and it is not difficult to see increasing potential for transformative change in the way that literary scholars research, publish, and teach.
Although I am fully in support of the idea of "the library as laboratory," I have learned that there a specific way in which this should be achieved. In sitting in a session during THATcampDC with a group of librarians, I came to understand that just as the digital world is changing, the perception of the librarians role must change as well. Librarians must be equipped with the skill set and help that they need in order to move the library along with the times. Enough librarians must be hired to help in all aspects of the virtual library, and this requires a restructuring of skills and strength. 

It is no longer acceptable for the humanities to be considered "data poor," but it's up to the humanists to change this perception. As Choudbury and Seaman note, "the humanities are rich with content that is difficult to extract into digital form." This becomes all the more notable if you consider that the humanist's "data" has been uncharted for all of history. We have generations of data to work with and the sooner we start, the better.
As for literary studies, the "traditional" form of publishing — the monograph — influenced the way in which research has been conducted and conveyed. With new avenues for publishing, it is possible, even probable, that humanists will begin to explore new forms of research and dissemination.
The natural flow of life is going digital. Shouldn't we follow in it's path?