Project 1

Distant-Reading Whitney

For this first project, we will delve into the practice of Distant Reading. As we’ve discussed in class, Distant Reading allows for a kind of big-picture perspective that can be really difficult to get without the aid of a computer. Although we won’t be looking at that large of a corpus, we might still be able to find some new perspectives on Whitney as an author and her work as a whole.

Using Voyant, you will load a file with all of Whitney’s writing in it (I will provide you a plain-text version). Take some time to explore all of the windows in Voyant (cirrus, summary, contexts, trends). Note that you can alter the results by interacting with them! It might take some time going through each element, finding a word or words that seem to catch your eye, and taking some notes on the results (we will discuss some ways to go about this in class). Ultimately, your goal is to write an argument (3-4 pages) using some of the results you found. For instance, say that Voyant shows that the word “love” appears more often early in the text and than later. Or say that almost every time the word “write” appears, it is accompanied by “letters.” What might these things mean within the context of the work as a whole? What might it suggest about Whitney’s writing style, women’s writing in this period, or ever Whitney’s readers? Choose a few (no more than 3) poems to illustrate your point.

Your formal blog should include an introduction that situates Whitney’s writing within the period (either as a woman writer, or a middle-class writer– this will require some research on your end) and introduces the central themes you’ll be analyzing throughout the paper. Your thesis should make an argument about what can be learned from performing your selected distant reading on Whitney, and why that matters. Include in your post screenshots of the specific visualizations you created where appropriate, and be sure to use textual evidence from the poems to support your observations.

For inspiration, here’s a high-level example of what this might look like.

Your post is before midnight on Tuesday, October 2. Please be sure to mark it with the category “Project 1.” Your project will be graded on your ability to select a productive and thought-provoking set of visualizations (again, remember that you don’t need to use the auto-generated ones) and your critical-thinking skills in drawing connections between the Voyant results and their significance in relation to Whitney’s poetry. Your argument should be grounded in the text and your Voyant results–beware of making observations you can’t prove within the text!


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