After a six-year break from schooling, I have been introduced to data visualization tools and it has changed how I look at the texts I read. As data visualization becomes more prevalent in the classroom, please feel free to come to the Writing Center for help on creating or working with these new learning tools. To avoid making this post unbearably long, I will focus on one data visualization website (Voyant Tools) that is both fun, unique, and offers multiple data viz applications.
Words clouds are a common form of data viz—Hamlet is my sample text in this word cloud. So, how do we use word clouds to view our texts? First step is to add any stop words (I, me, you, said, etc.) that may muddle up what you are trying to find. For me, I was looking for words that may show me a theme that I may not have noticed before in Hamlet. Therefore, I removed all character’s name from the text. As you can see, the most prominent words are lord, good, come, father, and love. We can then take a closer look at these words in the texts. Lord, for example, is not only Hamlet’s title, but can also refer to the religious figure. Since, Hamlet battles his faith throughout the play, it is easy to take the word lord and make it fit into the theme of religion as heaven, god, and soul are all visible words in this cloud. This tool is useful in noticing words that you may have taken for granted while reading. What words do you find as outliers here? What is their significance? All these questions should come to mind while using data visualization tools.
While I find data visualization a new concept, I too am learning how to maneuver around them as well as use them to my benefit. Another awesome data viz that I used to examine Hamlet is called Topics. It is a list words that are grouped together and can be used to distinguish certain themes in a text using words groups. I highlighted a group of words in blue as an example. The words in this group consist of; love, mother, soul, madness. All great words to consider when looking at Hamlet. This data visualization is a great way to start to think about a literary analysis for any novel that you are unfamiliar with. For example, I would look at the highlighted words and think to myself: what do these words have in common? And, how do these words work in the text? When it comes to Hamlet, the entire play revolves around his wavering sanity as he battles his love for his mother and distain for her actions after his father’s murder. If you weren’t familiar with Hamlet or have a hard time understanding Shakespeare, then the previous sentence may not have come to your mind. Luckily for you, data visualizations are making it easier for us visual learners to see things in a way that is both helpful and fun.
The next time you are having trouble finding a topic for a literary studies paper take a moment to play around with data visualization websites. Voyant Tools is such a great website that offers multiple visualizations that can help you understand a text in a new way. Give it a try, you can even use Hamlet and comment any new trends you may have found. It is a great way to start a literary conversation and notice things that may have been overlooked in the past. If you don’t understand data visualization, the Writing Center is here to help you use these tools for your benefit. They are even great tools to start brainstorming for a paper you have to write.