Digital Humanities

Nathalie's Thoughts

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Seeing a Text


I like the idea of seeing a text as it offers a new way of coming to the text, but also interpreting it. Last semester a student in class decided to make a word cloud and also a list of the words he used most in his final portfolio. His word cloud really gave the class a visual of the words he used most when describing himself in his portfolio. The list of words helped him understand how many times he used a word from the most to the least. It gave the student a chance to reflect on his portfolio in a very creative way as he thought about the ways he expresses and composes about himself knowing and not knowing how many times he uses specific words.

I’ve included a couple of word clouds that I tested out. I started to have too much fun playing with settings for words, colors, layout etc The first two word clouds I created are for Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Why did I work on these texts? No real answer. I’m currently working with Didion’s piece in a class with students. And “Howl” comes a little bit before Didion’s piece, so there are some overlaps. I would say look at “howl” first to understand the overall feeling of the chaos Ginsberg describes and move into Didion’s place where chaos continues to be described specifically in Haight Ashbury. So together along with some good lyrics from the 60s and 70s, we can see, read and understand lots of the counter-culture movement – specifically these clouds highlight names, place, drugs, experiences, etc all to illustrate a kind of chaos. I think they are both really neat. I really like the “Howl” word cloud, especially. After the cloud, I included the top words in the word count. Moloch shows up 39 and Rockalnd 19. The larger words in the wordle really stick out to me and take me back to the imagery of the poetry. Streets, soul, eyes, naked, night, jazz – these words i see immediately and I think back to the first lines of the poem, “I saw the best minds of my generation . . . “

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This is a cloud from an article I bumped into about the values of students and instructors in the first year writing classroom. Sort of interesting what words come up, used the most, etc.

This is a cloud from an article I bumped into about the values of students and instructors in the first year writing classroom. Sort of interesting what words come up, used the most, etc. I like the tool and can see it being useful as I mentioned in a student’s work (like last semester with the example of the student and his portfolio) and it’s also useful to visualize a literary text. Molach and Rockland take over “Howl” – and they really do, for those who have read the poem. I’m thinking about all of this in relation to a first year writing course. I like the idea of incorporating more of this in order to emphasize composing as more than writing on a page. Instead of being limited to text and paper, I continue to imagine students pushing boundaries and mixing and meshing different genres together in order to express themselves. I like the idea when “Print and digital overlap, intersect, become intertextual” (Shipka 8). These word clouds show that we can single out words and relate them to other texts. This allows for readers to see major themes quickly, study how author’s perhaps change a style of writing, see commonalities in different texts, and the list can go on and on. On a side note, I like the Clement article because of its focus on Stein’s The Making of Americans – I remember being extremely confused as a sophomore in college reading that text. I wonder what a word cloud would’ve done to help me understand it more clearly. Having access to tools such as the word clouds along with the massive amounts of text available online provides people with a community where they can share and exchange knowledge, ideas and thoughts quickly and easily. These tools empower people to spread knowledge and also learn about themselves, as I think back to the student who took the initiative to create a word count of his portfolio.

More to come . . .


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The Weekly Create

I haven’t wrapped my mind around DH yet or how it fits in with what I’m doing now. This is definitely a semester and course where I’m really exploring something completely new to me, which is interesting in itself to me. As someone trained as a literary critic in British 19th century literature, I can see how DH can completely support what it means to be a scholar in the field. I remember doing research during my MA and encountering entire archives online dedicated to Wilkie Collins – I was so impressed and it was huge and I can SEE IT ALL in front of my computer in my sweatpants and slippers. Pretty intense and awesome. Actually, it’s almost overwhelming in a way. What do you tackle when it’s all in front of you? There’s so much information, right there, accessible. I also remember bumping into a 19th century women writers website which is still under construction.  But, they (students and professors) were in the process of archiving all of Elizabeth Braddon’s works including her letters, diaries and notes. So, in working with those archives and bumping into them, I could see how DH completely changes the way we approach knowledge. It’s no longer flying to London (although I’ll still do that), to go to some space where paper archives are held, where you reserve a room (I’ve done that at the NYPL for a grad class) and have someone bring you boxes. But now, it’s a huge space online where work is digitized and available to all that are interested, not just scholars, but anybody. I imagine that will widen the conversation among such literature.

For example, here’s the project currently being developed to archive all of MAE’s work. Mary Elizabeth Braddon Archive

or here’s the quarterly review archive, which is in the library on microfiche

Quarterly Archive



After going through the readings for this week, one of the most common themes that I could find is the idea of collaboration. Whether the readings were focusing on the history of DH, different tools or fundamental questions about research, the word collaboration shows up constantly. In Kirschenbaum’s piece, he describes DH as a a common methodological outlook instead of an investment on any one specific set of texts or technologies and that the community of DH have a strong sense of purpose and collaboration. It could be collaboration as we see in the Bentham project, where anyone can jump in and start transcribing, or collaboration on twitter, where it’s mostly about following a larger conversation, which I finally appreciate! I really loved the article in the NYT’s Humanities 2.0 about the word count in the Victorian novel, not just because I’m a Victorianist at heart, but because the concept is interesting and I could see the way that impacts close reading. Actually, a student last semester created a word cloud of his final portfolio to see what words he used the most in all of his writing. He then generated a list which gave a word count of how many times each word showed up (And I mean each word of every piece of writing in his portfolio). It was really neat to see him to do this and incorporate it into his reflection piece about what it means to compose and express.

Regarding my current interest, writing studies, I see DH working in a variety of ways. Much of my current thinking is about first year writing classroom pedagogy, which includes everything from voice finding, to cultural studies, to language, place-based stuff and on and on and on. I’m very interested in using lots of genres in first year writing. I like to get students thinking of writing as more than a paper, but rather composing in a different genres, which could include words, websites, pictures, art, dance, lyrics and this list goes on and on. Last semester, one of my assignments in class was writing six word memoirs. One student decided for his final project, to create Vine videos ( 6 seconds) and mix them with his six word memoirs on a blog. It was really amazing. So, in this class, in the readings and discussions, I’m hoping to think a lot about ways of incorporating projects like the one above, where there is critical thinking, design and creation all combined in one but most importantly reflective of that unique student’s voice. Currently, I have a tumblr for one of my classes, and I ask students to use hashtags, as it’s a whole other language out there that they use and I want them to become aware  of that language and other ones they use everyday.

What am I getting at? I’m not sure! It’s all confusing at the moment, but I know there’s lots of room for creativity in the writing classroom because of digital humanities. It’s more than just writing on a open space like the internet and thinking about audience, it’s asking students to really think what platforms, mode, languages, etc they want to use to express, to compose, to write. The questions in the writing classroom become greater and I’m not sure how that will work in the classroom, but I mostly imagine that it will make students and writers more aware in a variety of ways. It’s no longer just a five paragraph essay that has to be perfected. Right now, DH is making me rethink how I’m going to use all this digital in my conversations in the classroom.

I also like that this course is already pushing me to explore – last night I registered for Twitter – whoa! exciting. I followed way too many people, but I’m going to keep adding anyway.

Open Syllabus Project -this is pretty cool. It’s called the Open Syllabus Project. I found it while searching info on DH and comp studies. I can see this kind of stuff creating a huge, open conversation in different fields where everyone can participate and more ideas can be generated and created. So, right now, the DH’s’ first impression on me can be summarized in the idea of community and collaboration, which I think is extremely awesome.