Professor Jonathan Hope from the University of Strathclyde visited us on March 8 to speak to members of the St Andrews Digital Humanities Network. In his lecture “Shakespeare in the Laboratory,” he drew on his experience of working on the Mellon-funded Visualizing English Print project, to show how to get started with digital text analysis projects at research level. He was accompanied by student Mohamed Amine Belabbes, who spoke about how the Language of Shakespeare’s Plays (LOSP) Project at Strathclyde’s TextLab had allowed him the opportunity, as a computer scientist, to venture into the world of textual analysis which would otherwise have been closed to him. He also mentioned how this project had helped him to understand how interesting and valuable work in this area could be. Both speakers showed the ways in which tools such as Ubiqu+Ity, WordHoard, AntConc, Metadata Builder, Serendip, DocuScope and TextDNA can be used to interrogate the language of texts and to hypothesize possible meanings. They also explained how the corpora on which such analyses could be run were generated from EEBO and ECCO Text Creation Partnership (TCP) XML files, downloadable from the Visualizing English Print website. Examples of what can be done with such tools and texts include Stanford developer David McClure’s recent analysis of the “distribution of body parts across narrative time in 30k novels,” which shows that there is a high occurrence of the words “hair” and “nose” at the beginning of narratives (where characters are being introduced and described), and a spike in the number of words associated with emotion e.g. the taking of “hands”, the throwing of “arms” around people when stories are being resolved at the end. Analysis of pronouns in Shakespeare’s plays also suggests interesting possibilities. While there are very few occurrences of the word “she” in most of the tragedies (seven in Julius Caesar, for example, of which four refer to the river Tiber), there is a very high number in Othello, a statistical characteristic the play shares with many of Shakespeare’s comedies.
This event showed how digital analysis can help scholars to see new things in the texts they study, and suggested ways in which they could easily experiment with some of the new tools available.
Alice Crawford, Senior Librarian (Digital Humanities & Research Computing)