Have you ever found yourself wishing you could find a web-based text analysis program that was created to theorize text analysis tools and text analysis rhetoric? If such a specific desire has ever burdened you, fret no more!! Your wish has been answered by the collaborators of hermeneuti.ca with their creation of Voyeur!
How does Voyeur work? Users paste a URL(s) or text into the “add text” box and click on “reveal” for the program to calculate frequency of words in the text. The results are shown two ways: one is visual (like wordle) with the most frequent words appearing the largest in a word cloud, the other is shown in the “summary” or “words in the entire corpus” box. Both of these list the most common words in descending order.
Once the data has been analyzed, users have several options of what to do with it. One of them is exporting it. There are several options of how and where to export the data to. For a historian doing research on multiple documents, this tool is very valuable. If a user is looking for the frequency of a particular word, they can type it into the “search” box under “words in the entire corpus.” Double-clicking on a word brings up three more boxes of information: “word trends,” “keywords in context” and “words in documents.” If there is a favorite word users want to store they can click on the heart with a plus sign in the “words in the entire corpus” box to save it. These features work for foreign languages as well (they must be text, symbols are not recognized).
While Voyeur has many positive attributes, it also has its negatives. The most frustrating of which is the limited data type it can analyze. Hermeneuti.ca acknowledges the flaws of this website-in-progress but it claims the ability to break down a variety of web-based texts. When I entered the URL for a JSTOR article, an error message appeared. I also tried entering the URL for blogs and it would not analyze those either. I was not able to test an e-book with Voyeur but I would be interested to see if it would break it down. Another downside to this program is that it analyzes common words like “the, and, of, in” etc. Wordle does not show these common phrases in the word clouds it creates. This is not a terrible feature but if it could be eliminated to focus on more key words that would improve it.
How useful can this program be for historians when it lacks the ability to analyze a variety of documents? It would not be my first choice for text analysis if there are more versatile programs available. However, for the documents it can break down, it is useful in comparing multiple texts at one time, finding the most frequent words from the documents combined. The ability to export the data and store favorite words makes it convenient for some types of historical research.
What do fellow historians think of this? Can programs like Voyeur be useful even if they have a limited capability for analyzing documents? What should we be looking for in text analysis programs?
(posted at 10:26 pm on 5/5)