Discipline-specific Tools Series: Digital Humanities, pt. 2 – Literature

Illuminated ManuscriptThis is the second in my series of posts on tools for different disciplines.  The first was on the digital humanities (DH) and covered general resources for getting started in DH.  I planned for this second post to be more about DH as it relates to literature, and will try to keep it so, but I have run into some problems,  which I will tell you about because those problems shape this article.

The first problem is that, for a relatively new topic, there is so much out there!  I could probably find enough to write on for a year!  However, it means that there are many good resources that I either did not find or don’t have space to cover.

The second problem is that DH is called DH for a reason.  The humanities are quite intertwined with each other.  Literature and history overlap quite a bit as in the history of a great literary figure or the impact of a book or author on historical events – for example, the impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom‘s Cabin on the U.S. Civil War.  As the digital humanities have progressed, it seems that the tools for one overlap with the tools for the other.  Timelines, mapping, text encoding, textual analysis, etc. are used by both literary studies and history – and for other hunanities/social science disciplines. Therefore, I am going to start by discussing some directories of tools.specific to digital humanities (especially if they have a lot of tools for literary studies), then give some examples to illustrate uses of the tools.

As always, the first recommendation is for Bamboo DiRT, an extensive directory of tools in many categories that was established for DH scholars (though is useful for all academic researchers).  We’ve covered DiRT before, so won’t discuss it more now.

Next there are a couple of directories that were developed by professors and students in DH classes, and that have influenced each other.  My favorite of the two is Digital Humanities Resources for Student Project-Building, curated by Alan Liu.  It has pages for Guides, Tutorials, Tools, Examples, and Data Collections and Datasets.  The front page gives the scope:  “This selection is not intended to be comprehensive and is under continual development.  Selections are biased toward free tools or tools with generous trial periods available for student use”.  All of the pages are well done.  It is the tools page of most interest, however, and it is well-organized and easy to read.  It starts by listing other directories of tools, then lists selected tools in the categories Animation & Storyboarding, Audio Tools; Authoring/Annotation; Content Management Systems; Crowdsourcing; Design; Exhibition/Collection; Mapping; Modeling & Simulation; Network/Social Network Analysis; Statistics; Text Analysis; Text Collation; Text Preparation; Topic Modeling; Video; Video and Film Analysis; Visual Programming; Visualization (with subcategories General; Diagrams & Graphs; Infographics; Network viz; Text viz; Time Lines; and Twitter viz); and Deformance Tools.  A red checkmark by a tool indicates “Currently a tool that is prevalent, canonical, or has “buzz” in the digital humanities community” while a blue check mark indicates “Other tools with high power or general application (some caveats may apply for scholarly use)“.  Each tool has a sentence-long description, and there are even links to tutorials for a few of them.  Excellent site!

The similar page mentioned above is Digital Textualtity Resource Pages, created by Kim Knight and students in her Digital Textuality classes.  The pages below the top one are:  Text Production Resources Index; Visualization Resources Index; Image Resources Index; Sound Resources Index; and Video and Animation Resources Index.  Each of those pages follows the same format of first offering examples, then further reading/information, and lastly the list of tools.  Most of the tool names are links with a red checkmark overlaid with “Reviewed”.  The link for the tool name then goes to a review of that tool.  Most of the tool listings have a sentence-long description of the tool and a link to the tool’s website.  The reviews may be the most valuable part of the site, as the few existing directories of tools mostly lack that excellent feature.

Another directory of tools is TAPoR (which stands for Text Analysis Portal for Research), a collaboration between several Canadian groups, and is often referenced by DH scholars.  “TAPoR is a gateway to the tools used in sophisticated text analysis and retrieval.”  Further self-description includes:

With TAPoR 2.0 you can:

  • Discover text manipulation, analysis, and visualization tools
  • Discover historic tools
  • Read tool reviews and recommendations
  • Learn about papers, articles and other sources about specific tools
  • Tag, comment, rate and review collaboratively

The front page has a “Featured Tool” rotating spotlight, with boxes underneath for Popular Tools, User Recommended Tools, and Random Tools.  In the upper right is the category breakdown for the tools with a number beside each category that is the number of tools listed in each.  The categories are All; New; Concording; Miscellaneous; Statistical; Text Gathering; Reviewed; Popular; Editing; Search; Text Cleaning; and Visualization.  Each tool entry has the name of the tool, a link to its site, a link to its author(s), and a paragraph description.  To the left is a screen shot of the tool in action.  Clicking on the screen shot will bring up the review, which is the above information plus a 3 column table with more information. Under the Documentation heading are links to its documentation page, date created, and latest update.  The next column is labeled Attributes and includes background processing, ease of use, popularity, type of analysis, type of license, warning, and whether it is web usable or not.  The last column is for user-supplied tags.  Below the table is a space for comments, which may include ratings.  Personally, I think the user design of the site would be improved by having the review as a link under the links to the site and author(s) rather than a link from the screen shot.  Another problem is that many of the tools listed are historical and no longer active.  While I am all for history (having a couple of degrees in the subject), the historical tools should be more clearly marked and a category added for active.  Another possibility might be having a star by the name of each active tool.  Even in the category New there are a couple of historical tools, which might confuse some users looking for current tools.    Otherwise TAPoR is a marvelous resource for scholars looking for tools relating to textual analysis.

A llisting of tool directories can be rather dry.  However, the results of using the tools themselves can illustrate how these tools serve scholarship.

One example is Lincoln Logarithms from Emory University.  It uses four different tools to analyze a corpus of 57 of the sermons preached following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The four tools, with a description, screenshot, and outcome, are listed on separate pages:  Text Mining with Voyant; Topic Analysis with MALLET; Visualizing with Paper Machines; and Mapping with Viewshare.  Each page is not lengthy, but gives a good example of what each tool can do and what information they provide.

Lincoln Logarithms Website

Another example is Literary New Orleans, a WordPress site that maps New Orleans neighborhoods.  The map has pictures of authors and filmmakers whose work depicts New Orleans.  Click on the pictures and two boxes pop up.  One has the artist and his/her work, and the other lists secondary works about the artist.  Underneath the map is a timeline of the artists.

Literary New Orleans MapNext in this series weill be a post on Digital Humanties with a focus on tools used in history.  Please add comments on tools you have found useful!






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