This weeks’ readings focused on the utilization of audio and visual media in the process of the digital humanities, specifically looking at the Imageplot software. This program and its capabilities are quite interesting, particularly for those who focus on the study of media in general. The ability to quantitatively evaluate brightness, color saturation, and a host of other features can provide for varying degrees of analysis of film, art, photographs, and other visual media.
Unfortunately, this does not apply to my current projects. While I could conceivably conduct a visual analysis of my source base (much of which is derived from newspapers), my research is not a study of media as an entity, though it undoubtedly uses visual media as contextual evidence. It would be difficult, though not impossible, to add a component of visual analysis to what is largely an economic analysis of French trade and monetary policy.
This issue also applies to the second set of readings assigned for today, which focus on the usage of portable recording software for video and audio interviews. Given that my period of research focuses on the 1920s-1930s, potential candidates for oral interviews are fairly limited. Again, the potential for an oral history project exists, but that would be far beyond the scope of my current project.
As it stands, it seems useful to spend the remainder of this post discussing an important update to my project. In searching for a potential digital scraping tool to utilize the totality of Gallica’s Indochinese newspaper archives for textual analysis, I was reminded of an old friend who was recently admitted into the doctoral program in Computer Science at the University of Oregon. After a brief discussion, and the prospect of compensatory imbibing, he offered to write such a program. As it stands, this puts my project in an excellent position for the remainder of the semester, and I should be able to conduct the bulk of the analysis over the coming weeks.
The readings for this week focused on the question of mapping, including its use as a pedagogical and analytical tool. Considering the visual nature of Digital Humanities, this is unsurprising, and I know that for my own research, mapping provides extremely important context for the progression of particular narratives and the comprehension of different events. When used in conjunction with text or other visualizations, the benefits of mapping from a pedagogical standpoint are fairly obvious: they provide a frame of referenced for the student and, when tracking the spread of ideas or geopolitical changes, it can help ground a textual understanding of the subject material.
Diana Sinton’s article on mapping includes several examples, often tracking individual travels. I have used mapping in my own research in the past, mapping trench systems during a certain period during the Battle of Verdun in 1916, where I tracked the movements of the 153e Regiment d’Infanterie over the course of three days of combat operations. In my current research, mapping would provide an excellent window in displaying the geographic distribution of rubber plantations, and a means of establishing patterns for strikes, protests, and other forms of civil disobedience that wracked the industry during the 1920s and 1930s.
This article focuses on other aspects of mapping as a pedagogical tool, specifically looking at maps as a primary source. Tracking the changes in mapping procedures over the lifespan of the French Empire, for example, could show how entrenched certain ideologies became, while others were exchanged or disappeared entirely. This of course opens up the imperial construction of maps as a form of power over the colonized subjects.
The Basic Mapping in the Digital Humanities article expands on other examples, including some that we viewed in class. It provides a list of programs and their most effective functions. Of these, geo-coding seems to be the most applicable for my purposes, though I am interested to see other options moving forward.
One example that was particularly illuminating was the Mapping Emancipation site, which visualizes a variety of events regarding the actions by and towards African American slaves during the Civil War. As a layering tool, it was quite instructive, and provided very interesting patterns to analyze. The preponderance of events occurring in the contested regions of Virginia and the Mississippi River make sense within the context of the war itself, though I was surprised to see comparatively few events occur in Georgia.
Digital Humanities Project Proposal-
This project’s purpose will be to conduct a mass textual analysis of primary documents relating to the French rubber industry in Indochina. This will serve to identify linguistic trends, points of conflict, the public resonance of certain individuals and locations, as well as identifying key points of contention throughout the time period in question. Given the scope of the project in question (the 1920s and 1930s), a textual analysis will act as a quantitative supplement to qualitative close readings of particular issues and texts, providing a broader context for the emergence of patterns.
Phase 1: Accumulation of Sources
This first step will likely be the most time consuming, as it entails the collection and preparation of several years’ worth of periodicals, newspapers, magazines, and other documents for textual analysis. Key to this section will be the search for a broad document harvesting tool, to streamline downloads. All of these documents are digitally available on Gallica.fr, making individual access extremely simple. Mass access will require a little extra work, but should be doable, given the high digital presence. Happily, each of these potential documents has both a visual (scanned) component as well as a purely textual version available.
Time to completion- 3 weeks
Phase 2: Organization of Sources
This step will be somewhat shorter than the previous, effectively cataloging the documents in question to determine particular questions which need to be asked. This will also consist of the construction of data categories based on source dates, publication, physical location at time of publication, and type of document.
Time to completion- 1 week
Phase 3: Conduct of quantitative analysis
This phase will comprise the meat of the project. Utilizing Voyant software, I will input the documents listed above and begin the quantitative analysis. As stated earlier, this will be divided into certain categories prior to the initial uploads, though time will be taken during the analysis to develop new categories and adjust existing ones as necessary. This process will generate correlative relationships between certain subject matters, dates, and publications. A general observation of patterns will signify this phase.
Time to completion- 3 weeks
Phase 4: Conduct of qualitative analysis
This phase, which will continue beyond the completion of this semester, will see the incorporation of this data with a broad range of qualitative research that has been previously conducted, or will be conducted in the future, to contextualize the data and place it within the broader scope of my dissertation project. The connections between previously identified patterns and other significant events (as well as silences and contradictory patterns) will be investigated thoroughly in an effort to glean a rough composite of the state of the French colonial media conception of the rubber industry in Indochina and its varied processes. This will also incorporate visual analysis of publications, in particular newspapers, to illustrate other dynamics at play in the dissemination of information.
Time to completion- ongoing
Phase 5: Presentation of findings
This phase will consist of the visualization of the collected data and its presentation in a digital format, including on this blog. This will make the data legible and decipherable to a wider audience than its raw format, while simultaneously illustrating the correlative elements determined from the research itself.
Time to completion- 1 week
The readings for this week focused on the question of textual analysis, for which I was grateful, given the current direction of my project. As we are getting deeper into the semester, my plans are growing more and more concrete, and I expect to have a large project update next week, to fully flesh out my intentions.
As such, the focus on textual analysis was of particular benefit to me this week, confirming many of my preconceptions regarding its utility and its limitations. Each of the four articles assigned shared a singular caveat, however. Textual analysis, though powerful and undoubtedly useful, remains a supplementary tool to traditional research methods. This is entirely unsurprising, given the level of training and historical immersion required to accurately assess period-specific documents for a professional historian. Judgment calls are required on a regular basis, and a computer or algorithm, no matter how sophisticated, remains limited in its ability to assess satire, emotion, and ambivalence.
With these limitations in mind, I found myself interested in the potential of topic modeling, a combination of textual analysis and visualization methods. Two of the assigned articles focused on very different approaches to this topic. The first was “Mining the Dispatch,” an assessment of the issues of the Richmond Dispatch during the American Civil War. The intent was to recreate a certain sense of everyday life from the accumulated data of an extremely large corpus. The limitations of topic modeling, of course, derive from not only the inherent issues with textual analysis, but the historian’s choice of the topics themselves. This project provides some illuminating data points (the dramatic uptick in the mention of war bonds towards the end of the war was particularly striking), but if it were connected to a more qualitative analysis (say, of the aesthetic qualities of the newspapers themselves), it would be even more effective.
The other large example provided was of the correspondence of Henry Kissinger, which was presented in a very different means of visualization. Here, textual analysis sought to illustrate the relationships between words (“bombing” and “Vietnam,” for example), and cluster them together. This had the benefit of not only being interesting, but visually accessible and appealing. Many visualization tools we have engaged with in class do not lend themselves towards legibility, and it can be difficult to recognize patterns even when they do exist (which, of course, is not always guaranteed).
Given my interest in textual analysis, Megan Brett’s Topic Modeling: A Basic Introduction was a good shorthand into the requirements of such a project: A large corpus which has been “tokenized” for computer legibility (i.e. the removal of capital letters, articles, etc); a familiarity with the corpus on the part of the researcher; a program or tool for the topic modeling; and a means of visualization which will make the research accessible upon completion.
My own dissertation, I am convinced, will benefit from some form of textual analysis, especially given the sheer amount of documents I have to work with. While this method remains a supplementary one, it can undoubtedly demonstrate and reveal previously unnoticed patterns and relationships.