This may be an odd question, but how would you describe the way that you walk or move around in the world? Do you hold a certain posture? Does it depend on the people, places, and things surrounding you?
According to Joanna Guldi, the way a person’s style of walking is described can carry a lot of contextual and cultural information, especially in London during the 19th century. Guldi used databases and keyword variants to research the cultural change through walking habits in her article “The History of Walking and the Digital Turn.” Making use of Google Book Search, The Making of the Modern World (MMW) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) databases, she explored the shifting terminology to reveal the changing discourse of walking in 19th century London. Guldi noticed expressions such as “lurching,” “dodging,” and “waddling” grew in popularity over time. She also observed a contrast between the use of the words “lounge” and “stride” that reflected “the struggle between aristocratic and middle-class views of city, strangers, and the body.” On the other hand, the word “slodge” appeared in 1829 to describe “a drunken, foot-dragging walk, with all the poverty and dissolution such a posture could imply.” After examining the change of language over time through digital tools, Guldi asks other historians to establish new methodologies to glean additional information from digital database resources. Did Guldi’s methods change the way that you view historical texts? Continuing the conversation of “big data” that we started last week, have you come across historians incorporating similar methods in their research?
Ben Schmidt, who is currently the Director of Digital Humanities at New York University, also enjoyed experimenting with digital analysis tools. For one of his projects, he used Google Ngram to investigate the extent of anachronistic language in the popular British historical drama Downton Abbey. In his blog post “Making Downton more traditional,” shared his process of checking every single line of the show’s script for historical accuracy by running every two-word phrase through the Google Ngram database. (For a great overview of Google Ngram, check out Rosie’s blog post!) Schmidt gave a list of 34 anachronistic phrases that appeared in season 3 of the show. I have never seen Downton Abbey, and I was surprised to see the phrase “unicorn if” on the list.
Schmidt also found that every episode included dozens of phrases following speech patterns that were more consistent with teenagers’ language during the 1990s than the characters in the show. The characters’ phrasing was not the only anachronistic aspect of the show. Schmidt acknowledged that “the sensibilities are obviously modern, easy for us to understand, and false to the reality of the past.” A couple of the commenters also discussed the show’s use of contemporary phrases to create a historical drama that appealed to modern audiences. (This may be an aside from the main analysis of the readings, but do you agree with the commenters? What is the balance between historical accuracy and appealing to contemporary audiences?)
Guldi’s and Schmidt’s use of text databases and digital analysis tools demonstrate a facet of digital humanities’ many capabilities. In the article “Digital visualization as a scholarly activity,” Martyn Jessop shares a variety of methods for visualizing information through images, diagrams, and animations to communicate messages. Visualization is not only a method for viewing information, but also a method for studying information. This includes examining spatial relationships, quantitative analysis, temporal relationships, and 3D visualizations of built environments. Are there some forms of data visualization that work better than others? Additionally, Jessop claims that digital visualization’s greatest value is “not for analysis, but for synthesis and modelling.” Do you agree with Jessop’s assertion?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!