Comparing Digital Tools

Comparing Digital Tools

Voyant, CartoDB, and Palladio are each helpful tools in their own regard. But each tool is geared for working with certain kinds of data to answer particular types of questions. Let’s briefly look at each one again, noticing what type of data and questions make it a successful tool.

Voyant is best for:

-Analyzing large corpuses of textual data

-Noticing trends in words or topics in literature over time

-Switching back in forth between close reading (in context) and an overall view

-Promoting comparisons between the usage of multiple words/phrases/topics

-Finding the most used/important words or topics

-Helping you figure out what word or phrase to search for in your text

CartoDB is best for:

-Data that tied to physical, geographic locations

-Showing spatial trends that wouldn’t be noticed without plotting data on a map

-Presenting data in layers that can be turned on and off

-Viewing geographic clusters of data

-Showing how geographic data changes over time

Palladio is best for:

-Data that is uniform and has definite relationships

-Visualizing complex data that has many links

-Seeing how important one connection is in comparison to other connections in a network

-Showing movement of data from one location to another

-Promoting questions about the data connections


Digital Tools and the WPA Slave Narratives

For the slave narratives, Voyant was best as seeking out word trends and allowing one to compare how often terms were used over time and how their usage varied from state to state. CartoDB was best for plotting the geographic locations where slaves had lived, where they were enslaved and where they were interviewed. Palladio’s map feature was best for tracing the journey between the places were the interviewees had been enslaved and where they were living when they were interviewed. Palladio’s graph feature was best for looking at the topics of mentioned in the interviews and comparing that to the gender or type of slave.

Working with the Slave Narratives has suggested that all the digital tools that were used were helpful in understanding this data set. Each type of analysis brought new discoveries and added to one’s overall understanding. Looking back, I do think it could be helpful to utilize some of these tools together in order to investigate some of the questions raised by the other tools. For example, after discovering in Palladio that women in Alabama were the only ones to talk about elections and men were the only one to talk about travel, it would interesting to go back to Voyant and do some text analysis on both of those topics. How often did travel and elections come up in conversation in the slave narratives overall, not just in Alabama? How did Alabama’s interest in those topic compare to other states? In doing a close reading of the text, what were the contexts in which these topic were discussed? One might also use CartoDB to look at the distances “traveled” by former slaves from where they were enslaved to where they were interviewed. Did the former slave that traveled the furthest tend to talk about “travel” more than other interviewees?

In this way, all three tools can be used in collaboration to further a single research question. While one tool might be the first to show an interesting pattern or an anomaly in a trend, the other tools can be used to further investigate that oddity. In the future, I see researches using multiple digital tools in tandem with traditional research methods. I see the use of one tool or method prompting further questions which are investigated with a second tool or method, while at the same time, the researcher finds something interesting using tool 2 and returns to the tool 1 or even moves on to tool 3 for additional research.

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