Digital Humanities

December 7th, 2011



Throughout middle school and high school I took several English Literature courses.  I read all of the required books, stories and poems and analyzed them though my readings and the teacher’s discussions and interpretations.  I found this to be most satisfactory and as a result truly understood the books that I read.  However, since I have been introduced to “digital humanities technology” I am now aware that this is the way of the future and will be used to interpret literature.


Only one week ago I had never heard of Wordle or Ngram Viewer and was clueless to what these programs were.  After a few unsatisfactory attempts at it I finally was able to accomplish this amazing technology and the results were helpful in understanding my short story Dalyrimple Goes Wrong by F. Scott Fitzgerald.


When I entered the paragraph from the short story that I chose it was amazing to see the word cloud that developed with all of the key words from that paragraph.  Just by looking at that wordle I, as well as others, could get good ideas of what the paragraph is about because all of the key words are in the cloud.  This could be very beneficial because the reader, by reading the words in the wordle will undoubtedly get a very good idea of what the story is about and the genre of the story.  By picking out several words from my wordle such as police, worried, station, newspaper and dispirited they can give the reader some insight into the main character’s dilemma.


Another advantage of wordle is that it allows the user to create art from words.  In creating a wordle the computer user can change the colors of the words and the background, can make some words larger or smaller and place them either vertically or horizontally.  I found this to be fun and exciting.


Wordle also offers the opportunity for students of literature to improve their vocabulary by sticking to the important words in the wordle and finding synonyms for these words to make certain that they understand the meaning of these words.  Since wordle eliminated unnecessary words such as the, it, an, etc. I was able to concentrate on the important words in the wordle and I was able to interpret the meaning of the paragraph.


Although wordle does have many advantages I found that Ngram was also advantageous, but in a different way.  Although Ngram did not help me to understand the story it did give me excellent insight into the use of certain words and how frequently the words were used in a stipulated period of time.  For example, when I entered the word burglary with its synonym of crime I discovered that between 1890 and 1950 the word crime was a very popular word and between 1910 and 1920 it was at its peak.  I began to think that perhaps that is why F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this story in 1920 when the word crime was so frequently used.  Burglary was also popular during this period of time but not as much.  In 1910 the word job whose synonym is occupation was very popular and increased sharply from 1910 through 1950.  The word “job” plays a very important role in my story because Dalyrimple had a problem with his employment.  The word Senate along with its synonym assembly was very important in the story.   These  words were frequently used during the years of 1910 through 1920 and after a decline rose in the 1930’s.


Using Ngram was an interesting experience but I do feel it has its limitations.  I do not believe it is at all helpful in interpreting literature.  It does tell you how popular certain words were at the time of publication and it could give you insight as to what life was like at that period of time but it does not help in interpretation.


Although I found wordle to be far more helpful in interpreting literature it also had its limitations.  A strong limitation is that the reader might think that the information they get from wordle is enough to understand the story.  The wordle did give me an idea of the story but I did not find it detailed enough.  I did have to read the entire story to fully understand it.  My wordle contains most of the important words from the paragraph that I chose and many of the words are prominently displayed, but that information is still not enough to get a true understanding of the story.


Both wordle and Ngram are both extremely valuable software programs.  There is much to learn from them, but I feel they are not nearly as effective as actually reading the story.  They are helpful tools in breaking down the story and analyzing the words but reading is the most effective for interpretation.


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  1. October 16th, 2011 at 00:21 | #1

    When it comes down to it, “reading is the most effective for interpretation.” I would add to that, though, that its effectiveness is limited to just the individual text or a handful of literary works. Certainly, in reference to analyzing our short stories alone, digital humanities are near pointless (other than Worlde being fun and rather aesthetically pleasing). Thus, I would venture to say that the “best” literary analysis heavily depends on what it is that you are analyzing. As you’ve written, Ngram is advantageous “in a DIFFERENT way.” Point well taken.

  2. October 15th, 2011 at 14:23 | #2

    Hi Morgan,

    You also raise a point I haven’t seen discussed much–that Wordles are fun to make, and that might increase a reader’s participation in the text. We like to think of interpreting literature as a serious, solemn thing, but I like that you also talk about how it can be something fun to play with.

    I like that you also remembered to take into consideration capitalization when doing your Ngram searches. You made me think that maybe Ngram isn’t as useful for interpreting a single work of literature, but might be more useful if one was looking for context or background on a range of texts; it might not help with “Dalyrimple,” but it may help with establishing the historical context for Fitzgerald’s writing (like, as you say, maybe crime was a particularly relevant issue then).

  3. October 12th, 2011 at 18:08 | #3

    I like the point you make about creating art from words. Thats an intriguing thought. The only thing is, with everyone using the same program, how much of your own creativity do you actually put in?

  4. October 12th, 2011 at 18:08 | #4

    I AGREE. lol
    I actually jsut commented on Sasha’s blog post and hers and your are very similar. One word that I really enjoyed reading in your essay is “detailed”. Like you, I do believe that when understanding literature detail is important and the NGRAM viewer and Wordle don’t give us that detail we need. I’m not going to lie, I thought the Wordle was SOO cool. When I first put the story in my face looked like this “0.0”. I really enjoyed being able to have a lot of words from one story in front of me all at once without having to scroll up or down. The technological sources gave us general idea’s rather than detailed explanations about the story.

    So just like in class, you proved that D.H. can be useful but maybe only to a certain extent.

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