EDLM & Digital History: Digital Project Reflection

Hello, one last time, pals. Thanks for a great semester and for being kind to each other as we all learned what the internet (and digital history) is this semester.

My final product for this project included the attached PDF of three blog posts I’ll be working with Everyday Life in Middletown to get published on their blog in the next few weeks. For now, I’ll reflect a bit on this project and particularly on using Voyant.

To the end, Voyant Tools felt like a nut I just couldn’t crack. I’m uncertain if I had too high of expectations for the tool or if I was thinking too big or perhaps if I wasn’t creative enough. While I am frustrated by this experience, I also realize how much more familiar I am with the tool than when I started. I remember poking around in Voyant the week we learned it as a practicum and being completely thrown by the language they used to describe its functions and by the different windows. Taking a deep dive into a single tool for my own project was exactly the learning experience I was missing during class, and I’m content with that experience despite my struggles.

My Struggle with the Corpuses

Navigating my corpuses was a task and a half. I have access to all of the EDLM diary files through a shared box account, but I went through a lengthy process to make sure that those files perfectly matched the website. They did not. Filling in the gaps and cross-checking the sites to make sure I had an accurate corpus was work I did not intend to do, setting back my project timeline.

The spreadsheet I kept while trying to make my corpus match what was available on the website.

This spreadsheet also shows the first phase of my project when I had to carefully weigh how best to create my corpus. The numbers and letters in red were from the 2016 iteration of the project which I decided not to incorporate into my project, partially for simplicity, but also to clearly mark what corpuses and what EDLM initiative my project would be in conversation with. I decided that the five diary days highlighted in green yielded the most cohesive and comparable diaries.  

I arranged these diaries into three separate corpuses:

  • 1 corpus by a single author, including each day
  • 5 separate corpuses, separated by day
  • 1 corpus including all 146 EDLM diaries

These three arrangements best represented the nature of the day diaries across time and space, in relation to the individual, and as a collective body of writing. Analyzing and comparing the three corpuses was productive to think through everyday life theory and how the EDLM project operates in these different modes.

The Stopword Struggle

My next difficulties arrived when I tried to determine the best possible list of stopwords. I took various approaches, both with a light and with a heavy hand. To get the best reading, I eventually went with a heavier hand, resulting in a list of stopwords of 483. I used the same list across all of my corpuses. My choice to include first person pronouns was a topic up for debate, but I think it added an important element to understanding what kind of texts the day diaries are.

Analysis & Writing

Analyzing the corpuses in Voyant ended up being fun, as much as I could expect. I was able to think about how I understood the diaries and to think about how best to do a distant reading of them and what concepts would be the most interesting and the most fun to write about for a community audience. One frustration I experienced was a lack of understanding about exporting data, so I ended up taking a lot of screenshots on my laptop and doing comparisons in spreadsheets like this one demonstrating the top 45 terms for each day and for the entire corpus when I was determining how best to make comparisons between the corpuses.

The spreadsheet I created when realizing I couldn’t figure out if it was possible to export my data in an accessible or readable document.

When it came time to write, I had my sister, a diarist, community member, and excellent editor read through my drafts. She encouraged me that they were interesting to read while teaching the anticipated audience about using this digital tool and my methodology. These blog posts ended up being a small exercise in public history through methodologies and content, and I’m excited to give them to the EDLM team to share with their community.

Implications

I still think that the EDLM team should find new ways to read the diaries and to encourage interaction on the website. During our class conference poster session I was encouraged to think about using Voyant as a way of developing a research question. I think that is excellent advice which helped influence the tone of my blogs. If we think about using Voyant and other digital tools to do new readings of the diaries, we can also encourage other people to think about the diaries through this kind of lens. We should encourage our community to feel like researchers of their own city and to ask questions and to engage creatively with these diaries. While they might not click directly into Voyant, walking them through the process through my blog posts might encourage them to think of their own questions and to investigate more on their own.

Reflecting on This Project

At various points I worried that I should have done this same concept but in pursuit of a print project rather than digital project. While I think that I could have developed more theoretical and methodological ideas in that space, my real intention and the core of my project was about contributing to EDLM and writing for a community audience. I think that pursuing the print project wouldn’t have stimulated the same results and would have resulted with a less community-focused project. Moving forward, I’d love to continue writing for and researching for EDLM. As a lifelong Muncie resident, this project means much to me, and I’m excited that I was able to contribute again to this project.

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