Practicum Reflection Week 6

This week as an introduction to text mining I experimented with Voyant and Google’s Ngram reader.   This confirmed my belief that close reading is still very important even if distant reading also has value.  I used Voyant with some books that I was familiar with like Frederick Douglas’s autobiography and The Wizard of Oz and some books that I was not familiar with like Ulysses by James Joyce.  This showed me that I could get a general idea of what the book was about by the top words shown.  For example, the top words for Frederick Douglas’s autobiography were “slave” and “master”, which give a pretty good general idea about what the book is about.  However, the Wizard of Oz showed the value of close reading since the top words were “scarecrow,” “Dorothy,” and “woodsman.”  If one had not read the book would they have any idea what the plot of the book was about let alone the allegorical meaning it has in terms of the gold and silver debates of the late 19th century?  The other tool that I used was Google’s NGram Viewer. I liked this better because it is shown over time.  So the effects on the word counts are affected by historical events rather than just contained in one book.  I am more familiar with historical events so I could get more out of this tool.  I tested some words with predictable results.  For example, the word “automobile” started to gain popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, peaked in the 1950’s, and then tapered off from their.  However, Google’s Ngram Viewer also brought up some questions I did not have the answers for, as Franco Morretti would say.  For example, the word “Irish” was not used very much except for the period’s 180-1820 and 1860-1870, when there was a huge spike in the usage of the word. This was interesting because the time of the Irish potato famine was 1845-1852 and this is a time when there was almost no mention of the word “Irish”.  One would think that this tragedy and the resulting mass immigration to America and elsewhere would cause more attention to be paid to the Irish but there is no spike until 1860.  Why is this?  Is it because most Irish did not immigrate until later? Were books not published about the famine until about a decade later? Or is it the result of something else? This definitely shows the value of text mining for its ability to raise new historical questions.


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Filed under US History

One response to “Practicum Reflection Week 6

  1. Your “Irish” N-gram results are fascinating. The questions it raises almost makes me want to do a research project on the absence of “Irish” in the Famine period. Also, good work on pointing out the allegorical allusion to the gold and silver debate in the Wizard of Oz. I read that recently and had been meaning to re-watch it. Don’t know when I’ll find the time because I probably first have to watch Wizard muted while I sync Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

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