text challenges

Of everything we’ve done these past two weeks, today’s topic, distant reading and textual analysis, was definitely the most challenging for me. I appreciated Fred Gibbs’ (and Megan, and Spencer’s) careful and thorough explanations of techniques, but struggled to find a way to apply them to my own research and teaching. Here’s a list of corpora I attempted to plug into Voyant, Bookworm, Overview: my book proposal. my book manuscript. a batch of student papers. some primary source PDF’s (from the “Major Problems” series) I had scanned for my U.S. history survey. someone’s dissertation i downloaded a year ago with an intent to read (I didn’t get around to it). a bank of public history syllabi I had saved on my hard-drive. I did see some interesting patterns looking at these (for example, I overuse the word “interrogate”), but nothing that struck me the way that, for example, our spatial analyses exercises struck me yesterday. I’m happy to have a better understanding of the contours of this mode of inquiry, but could not, for the life of me, find a way to use it to my satisfaction.

This isn’t meant to sound pessimistic. Because “digital humanities” can mean so many things, I think I feel like I have to master all of them, but clearly that’s not the case. Part of this institute is to learn how to pick and choose tools and approaches, and also to learn how to help students to do so. So, even though, I couldn’t find a way to make textual analysis work for me, I’m more confident now that I have a (semi!) working knowledge of its various tools, approaches, and applications.

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