Words Lesson Plan 1- 1101

An introduction to using computers to analyze large amounts of text, or distant reading.

Learning objectives:

Student will be able to:

  1. Enter URLs or text into Voyant.

  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the Voyant tool through counting words and drawing conclusions from those counts.

  3. Demonstrated in their paragraphs the use of stopwords.

  4. Demonstrate that they can draw conclusions based on their use of Voyant, including word counts and word patterns.

1. Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.

Most reading we do is “close reading.” We read each word, place each word in the sentence or context, and then create meaning out of the words all strung together. For example, “today, I ate cake.” You must read those words in context and in an order to understand those words.

Sometimes, we read in ways that aren’t so “close.” For example, if you go to a weather website, and look up the forecast, you don’t read all the words in their context. You scan for the information you need, and ignore the rest. This is the first step to distant reading: recognizing that not all information included in a text is relevant and looking only for the material (or data) that is important.

For part of the Words module, we’re going to use distant reading websites to analyze large amounts of text.

For example, below I’ve placed a URL https://github.com/jackhistorynorton/history_1101/blob/master/readings/Mahabharata_Gutenberg.txt of the entire text of the Mahabarata, the other great Indian epic (along with the Ramayana) into Voyant.

This tool counts words and looks for patterns. It is almost impossible to count words in large numbers for multiple books as a human, but computers can do it for us. This is what “distant reading” means: humans are far away from the texts and computers hold and manipulate the texts.

You can access Voyant at https://voyant-tools.org/
or at https://voyant-tools.org/docs/#!/guide/mirrors. If these sites are not responding, you can also download and install a local version of Voyant on your own computer.

Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.
Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.

2. The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.

I clicked “Reveal” and Voyant has now analyzed the entire text, and counted every word, generating what we call a word cloud. A word cloud shows the words used most often in a text. More popular words or symbols are bigger. in the word cloud below, “said,” “great,” “continued,” and “like” are the most popular, which is useless to us. So, we need to tell Voyant to edit out those common words. We call common words we don’t want “stop words.”

The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.
The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.

3. Editing stopwords

I clicked on the switch icon below the word cloud and it will give me the option to add Stopwords.