This is “End-of-Chapter Assessment”, section 9.9 from the book Creating Literary Analysis (v. 1.0).
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One digital humanities methodology not discussed in this chapter is textual analysis, which is the use of computational tools to discover patterns in textual data. On the ProfHacker blog, Julie Meloni described Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) as “the gateway drug to textual analysis” (http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordles-or-the-gateway-drug-to-textual-analysis/22781).Julie Meloni, “Wordles, or the Gateway Drug to Textual Analysis,” ProfHacker (blog), The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 21, 2009, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordles-or-the-gateway-drug-to-textual-analysis/22781. Wordle allows users to generate word clouds from blocks of text. In these word clouds, the most frequently used words in the text block are represented the largest. For this exercise, bring your class into a computer lab (or have them use laptops) and point them to Wordle.net. Ask them to copy and paste the full text of a poem, short story, or novel you’re reading in class into Wordle’s text field. You can find the raw text of many literary works on the web on sites like Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org). Once they’ve generated their word clouds, ask them to brainstorm ideas about what those word clouds might tell us about the text:
What important ideas do the word clouds seem to miss about the text?
These discussions can serve as useful “jumping off” points into the richer details of the text itself.
Bonus idea: You can use word clouds to brainstorm ideas for close readings of texts (see Chapter 2 "Writing about Form: Developing the Foundations of Close Reading"). Words that show up in large fonts in the word cloud might make good subjects for detailed analysis.
As we suggested in the section on digital timelines, timeline projects can help students make sense of literary works with complex chronologies—particularly works that jumble the order of events, such as Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html). Introductory students often struggle to understand precisely when events happened in relation to one another. Untangling those stories’ chronologies can help students understand the work as a whole. You can then move on to talk about why the author may have chosen to reorder events, which can lead to higher-order discussions. In short, you can move from “What happened in this story?” to “Why is the story structured in this way?”—which is a more satisfying conversation for most literature teachers!
For this assignment, reserve a computer lab. Put students into groups of two or three and spend a few minutes explaining how to build a timeline in a program such as Dipity (http://www.dipity.com). You should, of course, familiarize yourself with the software in advance of this class. Once students understand how to use the software, set them loose: ask them to create a timeline of events from the work under study in the order they occurred in the world of the work, not in the order in which they are presented to the reader. Depending on what work you are studying, give students significant time to tease out their timelines from the work—a story like “A Rose for Emily” can take an entire class period.
You can, of course, ask students to create these timelines using paper and pencil, though if you plan to assign a larger timeline assignment then this in-class work can help train students to use the timeline software. You might consider compiling the class’ best work into one master timeline that you can share with the class for later reference.
Bonus idea: On his blog, Brian Croxall describes building a collaborative timeline of American history as a cumulative project with students in his American Literature classes (http://www.briancroxall.net/2010/02/03/assignment-the-american-century-geospatial-timeline). Building a timeline as a class allows students to benefit from their colleagues’ work and helps hold all students to a higher standard. Rather than individual timeline assignments, you might consider a distributed, collaborative timeline assignment.
Have students conduct peer review on one of the sample papers using the organizational peer-review guide found in Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.8 "Chapter 9: Digital Project":
Plan to have your students conduct peer review on the drafts of their papers that they are writing in your class. Use the peer-review guide from Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.8 "Chapter 9: Digital Project" and have them work in groups of three and do the following: