Sunday, June 19, 2016

African American literary studies and three research methods using digital tools

By Kenton Rambsy

My ongoing work using text-mining software to analyze short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Edward P. Jones over the years has allowed me to offer detailed accounts of black artistic styles across historical periods and geographic boundaries. So far, I have used digital tools: 1) Extracting Quantitative Data, 2) Managing Quantitative Data, and 3) Visualizing Quantitative Data.

I utilize text-mining software to extract numerical values from digitized texts. The software reveals the density of language in a given text, the frequency of recurring phrases using a collocate function, and linguistic markers that link multiple texts among a host of other features.

The process of quantifying the contents of stories by Hurston, Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Jones allows for me to identify and chart a host of artistic trends based on geographic settings and historical periods. Below, I have expanded upon these three areas with specific examples.

1.) Extracting Quantitative Data: I use Voyant Tools, a text-mining software program, extracts quantitative data from digitized texts (i.e. short stories, autobiographies, and rap lyrics). The enumeration of texts can assist with identifying linguistic trends and pinpointing word and phrase usage.

2.) Managing Quantitative Data: After using text-mining software to extract raw quantitative data from digitized texts, I organize the content in spreadsheets, like Excel (similar to Google Spreadsheets). I use Excel in order to organize data alphabetically, by size, color, or some other filter that I designate. This enables me to effectively assess information and identify notable features based on the data I collect.

3.) Visualizing Quantitative Data: I export CSV (Excel) files to create data visualizations in various programs, including Tableau Public. Data visualizations make complex data accessible, understandable, and usable. Visualizations can take many forms ranging from geographic and map-based graphics to bar graphs, charts, word clouds, or visualized networks. Tables display measures of a variable, while charts and network visualizations patterns or relationships in the data for one or more variables.

"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
African American Language and Culture Lab

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