Digital History Final Project: The State of the Union

Hello all! I look forward to reading your final posts and looking at your very cool digital history projects! As for mine, I had a blast working on this project. The use of a digital component in a traditional research paper allowed me to delve further into the topic and go places I would have otherwise been too time restricted to explore. This project has certainly taught me the value of incorporating digital history in projects going forward.

The ease and speed of Voyant Tools, the digital asset I used for my project, was incredible. It was amazing how something thought up and designed so many years ago it still relevant and usable on the Internet. So many websites parish on the Internet from a lack of use or maintenance. However, the team at Voyant Tools have made an incredibly reliable and user friendly digital tool. I used Voyant Tools to do a text analysis of each State of the Union address I used in my research paper. It allowed me to have access to word count, most frequently used words and phrases, and exactly where they appeared in the text for further context. It was amazing the amount of data I was able to pull out of these primary source documents.

The main aspect of my paper was to highlight how digital tools could be used in a traditional academic style research paper. I could have technically done this project by gathering all the State of the Union addresses, reading each one individually, counting each word, and looking for frequently used words…. yeah, that as never going to happen. Especially in just one semester! The power of a digital tool allowed me to do all of that in a matter of hours, not weeks. Also, digital tools are just as important to the overall project as the documents themselves. The stigma that the digital components do not belong in academia is just crazy!

The most difficult part of the project was the limit of texts you could search at once on Voyant Tools. That made the process a bit more time consuming and difficult. However, I was able to save each segment as a new corpus so that made organizing them in the end easier. But all in all, a very easy tool to use! I would for sure use it again in the future!

This class and project as a whole really exposed me to the vast possibilities of the digital side of history. As a future public historian, making use of the digital components will be vital going forward. That is where the world is headed. We are in the information and digital age. Why not make full use of that? Museums, history departments on college campuses, high school classrooms, and beyond could be making better use of technology to explore history. We have huge amounts of primary source material digitized and waiting to be studied and examined. Students and museum visitors have the opportunity to lean in new ways with this digital technology as well. Why not utilize it?

Thank you all for a great semester!

2 Replies to “Digital History Final Project: The State of the Union”

  1. Jack, great project! You make a good point that digital tools can be just as important in projects as the source material. Sure, people can do text analysis by hand, but programs like Voyant Tools save time and also prevent unintentional human error. Digital tools allow people to take on more ambitious projects while maintaining a certain degree of accuracy. I really like what you’ve done with the data as well! Looking at what term, age, and turn-of-century contexts the presidents gave the speech around provides an interesting lens beyond the text itself. Good job!

  2. Great to see how your paper has come together! Leveraging text analysis tools like Voyant can often be challenging, but you did a nice job of identifying sources in the form of these speeches that lend themselves well to this kind of tool. I think the kinds of quantitative differences you were able to surface with the tool would likely be of interest in a range of contexts.

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