Text analysis has been a popular form of computational analysis since it’s inception. Whether you support close reading, distant reading, or a healthy mixture of both, there is always something to be learned when evaluating, comparing, and considering the words used by scholars, authors, poets, and anyone in between.
Voyant Tools is a popular online source for analyzing digital texts. Any user can upload their word source and then play with the various visualizations offered by the site. All of the visualizations show the various relationships between the digitized words and can be connected and presented in unique ways. The image above shows the first page Voyant shows after analyzing the American Medical Association (AMA) Journal of Ethics, July 2018 edition. The screenshot shows the page exactly as it first appeared. I did not make any edits or refine any key-terms. This is why abbreviations like ‘dr’ are visible.
As I have repeated many times to my classmates in Digital Humanities: the data doesn’t speak for itself. Part of understanding that comes from an insight provided by the Philosopher Karl Popper, who reminded a group of physics students that the first step in observation is choosing what to observe in the first place.
This is exactly what we were asked to do for our lab this week – choose what to observe and thus, create data. Every student evaluated the same data source, The Seventh Day Adventist Yearbook, but we each chose different information to make into our own datasets.
As anyone in the Department of Religious Studies at The University of Alabama will tell you — making the familiar strange and the strange familiar is one of the best ways to kickstart critical thinking. To give meaning to an example that seems otherwise meaningless sheds light on the ways that words seem to grant authority to social agents. So let’s give it a whirl:
Consider an example that should be very familiar: your body. That sack of flesh and blood that magically works together to make you, you. As Bill Bryson more elegantly puts it, “We pass our existence within this warm wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted” (4). I stumbled on Bryson’s book The Bodywhile browsings the shelves at Barnes and Noble — though I certainly had no need to lengthen my reading list. More often than not, my book-buying to book-reading ratio favors the first, but miraculously I actually made time to open this new read. As I made my way through Bryson’s synopsis of the human body and its history of discovery, I often stopped to highlight — not the fun facts I could spew at parties, but the sentences that acknowledged the contingency of our knowledge. Though it seems we have got our bodily functions sorted out, it turns out that the body is not so easily described, defined, or categorized.