The textbook definition of Digital Humanities describes it as “work at the intersection of digital technology and humanities disciplines.” A definition as broad and amorphous as this makes it difficult to quantify (or qualify) exactly what possibilities are opened up at these intersections. At its best, DH is able to “produce and use applications and models that make possible new kinds of teaching and research”(source).
As a former high-school teacher (I received my B.Ed. in 2011 and taught professionally until 2015), I have seen first-hand the way that technology has revolutionized and continues to revolutionize modern teaching practices. I have carried over an investment in looking for new methods for approaching and interacting with texts and literary works (many of which are digital) from these experiences and have worked to harness technological methods to increase student engagement and interaction in my tutorials and university teaching career. From simple adaptations such as integrating the use of PowerPoint, music/audio, the visual arts, and video into my teaching practices to more complex adaptations such as the use of digital clickers, class-created or modified interactive Google Documents and PowerPoint presentations, the use of interactive online environments, and soliciting anonymous digital feedback/quizzes, I attempt to use technology when I believe it provides possibilities to clarify or deepen student engagement or knowledge.
Beyond informing my pedagogical approach, I am deeply invested in exploring the possibilities that technology provides for approaching my academic work. Broadly speaking, my academic engagement with DH can be broken down into two categories of possibility: visualization/presentation and data analysis.
One of the major possibilities provided to the humanities by technology is presenting or visualizing research in new or more intuitive ways. Data which otherwise would be unruly or unintuitive to interact with, can be made accessible in the digital environment. I have been really impressed with the work of MoEML in producing the interactive map of Early Modern London. It also provides possibilities for visualizing data sets in more visually digestible and compelling ways. Here I am thinking of the possibilities provided by tools like Gephi, IssueCrawler, and CommentPress, all of which I have used or plan to use in my own work.
The other area that I have found the tools and methodologies of computer science to be most beneficial to my academic work in the humanities is data analysis. Tools like Voyant and AntConc provide the capability and framework to expand textual analysis in ways which previously were not possible, either by being too cumbersome or simply not possible.
In analyzing George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham’s 1671 play The Rehearsal and its pointed critique of John Dryden, I used Voyant to allow me to analyze word frequency across a wide corpus of texts, including Villiers’s other writings, and all of the Dryden plays referenced in The Rehearsal‘s accompanying key (included in its published version). Analyzing word frequency across this number of texts would have been beyond onerous without the ability to digitally analyze the texts. I was able to isolate the play-within-a-play from The Rehearsal and compare the language used in the Dryden stand-in Bayes’s play with the actual language used in Dryden’s plays. I also compared these results against results from the play as a whole and Villiers’s writings more generally as well as removing common phrases and character names. The summary of my findings was as follows (from the original presentation):
In an effort to demonstrate this, I analyzed the frequency with which individual words occur within the Dryden plays mentioned in the Key to The Rehearsal. This analysis revealed thirteen terms that appear with a distinctly higher frequency than the rest of Dryden’s vocabulary. There are more than two hundred instances of each of these thirteen terms within the five plays mentioned in the Key, whereas no other term occurred more than 168 times. In order to ensure that these tendencies and phrases were unique favourites of Dryden and not simply common phrases of the stage or the period I ran the same analysis on another play by Villiers, his adaptation of The Chances. In The Chances there were only two terms which occurred with any notable frequency over others (“shall”, “know”); thus, these two phrases were removed from the list of Dryden’s most used terms.
Using Voyant I was able to visualize and map these frequencies, some of which I’ve reproduced below:
Comparing the adjusted results from Dryden’s corpus with the play-within-the-play in The Rehearsal produced the following tables:
From which I was able to draw the following conclusion:
What immediately stands out about Table 1 is the massive frequency with which the term “love” occurs. Dryden uses the word “love” about 30% more frequently than any other word and it appears almost twice as often as the third most common term. In the play-within-the-play section of The Rehearsal the word “love” occurs 36% more frequently than the next most common term. As with Dryden’s plays, it is the most commonly used phrase by a wide margin. The word “sir” is also notable. The term was very common during the period and appears frequently, but its usage in Dryden’s work is markedly more pronounced. In keeping with this, Villiers uses the word 20 times in the play-within-the-play, but also uses it 193 times in the play overall. Importantly, though, most of these uses are by Bayes, and were therefore not excluded from this analysis as these uses are in line with his imitation of Dryden. The words “come” and “let” are used 280 and 226 times in Dryden’s plays, respectively. Similarly, they are the second and third most used words in Villiers’s play-within-the-play. These tables illustrate the high level of detail and precision that went into Villiers’s imitation of Dryden’s style of writing.
Villiers’s imitation of Dryden goes far beyond a satire of the genre of heroic tragedy and extends to a specific and intentional mimicry of the linguistic tendencies and diction found within Dryden’s plays.
I went on to analyze several passages from The Rehearsal which explicitly parody specific speeches from Dryden’s plays. Naturally, these readings still relied on traditional close-reading methods. Voyant enabled me to analyze a group of texts and linguistic particularities with far greater detail than was previously possible. It also allowed me to provide quantifiable data to support my argument.
If you want to talk more about my work with DH or discuss a project that you are working on, feel free to drop me a line.