Cultural Analytics

For this week’s assignment I returned to a site we had visited as a class, “Voyant Tools: Reveal Your Texts,” and to the specific DH project presenting the text of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. In addition, its users may access other Jane Austen novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. I identified this webpage specifically as a cultural analytics endeavor because of its strong use of computational and visual techniques in order to present a large amount of data surrounding a cultural piece, in this case, a piece of literature. The purpose or question being answered through the devices of the project is the importance of word choice in a classic novel, what truths the systematic and mathematical analysis of diction and repetition might reveal about a literary work or its author or background. An additional way to utilize the webpage is to compare the presence of these words to their use in various other novels by the same author, thus revealing the possibility of intentional patterns and meaning. The massive collection of words has been broken down computationally through the use of statistics and algorithms. There is interactivity woven into this, for the user can search and reference any specific word or phrase he or she wishes. Additionally, visual methods of presentation are used, including a graphing system, which adapts with ease to different searches. For example, the graph will show the frequencies of the use of the word “mrs,” per 10,000 words and how these numbers trend throughout all of Austen’s famous pieces. While the project presents a new and incredible way to analyze literature, as well as encourages interactivity, its overall organization is its weakness. The structure of these webpages is imperative to their success, yet the page here appears crammed and busy. The site has taken an English class assignment to analyze a novel to a mathematical level, one that will be unappealing to many if not presented in a clear fashion. Overall, the “Reveal Your Texts” page is an example of how a cultural analytics project uses visuals and statistics to bring purpose and use to mass amounts of literary data.

-Rachel Fredey

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