Voyeur: A Text Analysis Tool

Voyeur is a free online text analysis tool that is being constructed as part of the Hermeneuti.ca project. On their site, creators Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell define Hermeneuti.ca as a way to “think through some foundations of contemporary text analysis, including issues related to the electronic texts used, the tools and methodologies available, and the various forms that can take the expression of results from text analysis.”

Voyeur works well with the overall mission of the Hermeneuti.ca project because it allows users to explore the potential use of text analysis in a free and somewhat user- friendly space. In order to use the program, users simply enter or upload a text into the white box on the main page and then click the reveal button. Once the text has been “revealed” users can learn useful information such as how many times a word has been used, the distribution of the use of that word, the vocabulary density of a document, and the number of distinctive words used. Furthermore, when you click the small arrow at the bottom left of the screen; it will also show you word trends and your keywords in context. One of the more useful components of Voyeur is that it allows researchers to analyze both a corpus of documents or individual sources.

In order to demonstrate the full usefulness of the program, the site contains a helpful article “Now Analyze That” that demonstrates how researchers used Voyeur to analyze speeches made on race by Barack Obama and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. They used the program to identify each speaker’s political priorities and overall views of race relations. Examples such as this help researchers new to text analysis learn how to effectively use this research tool.

Because the program quickly counts how many times a word is used within a given text, I found Voyeur to have the most potential for historians interested in using quantitative analysis to study rhetoric in texts. For example, as a historian interested in gender, I could use Voyeur to scan a primary source and see how many times and where gendered language appears in a text. I could then use this information to see how gendered language is used in that particular text to create concepts of masculinity and femininity. While historians of gender have long sorted through sources for evidence of gendered language, Voyeur can now allow us to do it in a much quicker and more efficient way. Furthermore, Voyeur’s ability to search multiple documents at a time provides historians with a convenient tool for analyzing specific themes within a group of documents.

While Voyeur is still under construction, I found the site to have much potential for researchers. Although I did have some trouble navigating all the tools of the program at first, the site as whole offered a plentiful (sometimes overwhelming) amount of tutorials and articles that help novices to text analysis find their way. Furthermore, while going through this site, I particularly learned how digital media sites such as this one, can both change how historians look at sources and expose scholars to new forms of research.

If you use text analysis in your research do you find this program helpful? How do programs such as this change the way the historian researches? How can Voyeur be used to help us find new themes within documents?

6 comments:

  1. Voyeur sounds very promising! It reminds me of the quantitative analysis program used by the literature scholars in the class reading for this first week ("Shakespeare by the Numbers"; from 2007). Voyeur, though, is even better though since it is free and easy to use. I just visited the website and uploaded a document for analysis- it's fun!

    I'm very glad that I learned about Voyeur, as I now anticipate using it for my dissertation about the Barbary Wars.

  2. Hi Jason, I am glad you enjoyed using the site! I can definitely see how it will help you with quantitative research for your dissertation!

  3. How can I not like a text analysis system that is free? Well, as the always-critical person that I am, I think the key phrase Kelsey's written here is how it can "help researchers new to text analysis." The authors of the site are very clear in explaining their own weaknesses, which I think is important. The best feature of this online software, in my opinion, is the ability to export the data to XML. It's a very limited system, so one can use it for word count and looking at the z-score, the mean, etc., but there's so much more that anyone doing text analysis would need. Thus, you really can't get beyond the necessity of using something like SPSS or STATA, which is not free. Therefore, if you're going to do anything in terms of text analysis for a scholarly work, is it even worth going to Voyeur when you ultimately have to use a more complex software? I think Voyeur is a good step toward making these tools more available to a larger public, but I fear it may end up useful primarily to the general playing-around-on-the-Internet crowd rather than scholars interested in quantitative analysis.

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