Digital Humanities

Nathalie's Thoughts

Seeing a Text

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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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