I have based my proposal for History Moves on Voyant tools. I think Voyant could work well to bring to life the transcripts of the women participating in History Moves. There is some understandable skepticism around Voyant. I think the fact that it’s so easy for low-tech folks (like me) to dump big blobs of data and instantaneously receive colorful word clouds and “playful” bubbles (as described in Voyant’s own documentation) has bred some skepticism. I questioned the meaningfulness of using Voyant merely as a discovery tool when I compared presidential inauguration speeches for a prior NYU class.
In this instance, however, I actually think that Voyant would serve the transcripts well. Like the photos, ID cards and other ephemera that helped History Moves stitch together a powerful portrait of these women, their words are another reflection of both their own singular lives and the world they’ve shared with their fellow participants.
I think Voyant could potentially work well with the transcripts in three potential areas:
Potential to add visually appealing word visualizations to brick and mortar exhibits: The In Plain Sight displays, as reproduced on the History Moves website, underscore how bold graphic design help tell the stories of these women in a powerful and accessible way. For example, the large red and black pull quotes on the display panels are eye-catching and draw viewers in: “He called me the N word…I slapped his face and then I got fired.” Another board declares that: 138 People are infected with HIV in the U.S. each day. The statistics are driven home by the graphic illustration of replicas of orange and black badges representing the stats. Similarly, the ability to graphically illustrate the women’s words in a multi-colored Voyant “Cirrus” word cloud, for example, would actually suit the exhibit. In addition, an interactive digital element could be part of any brick and mortar exhibit.
Potentially give the participants additional creative paths to discovery through their own words: The easy-to-use tools would give the History Moves participants a chance to explore the word sets alone or with their comrades, which could add another dimension to the project. This is also keeping with the History Moves priority of giving these women agency over the story of their own lives. For example, project participants might be interested in how a single word plays out across their oral histories, such as “mother” or “abusive” or “drugs” or “survival.” In my preliminary study, “Mother” was the most frequent word in the corpus. (See screenshot below). Beyond colorful word clouds, one can add important additional substance by moving into more contextual elements, such as the Voyant Contexts tool.
Website: Voyant can also provide an interactive digital component to the website. One idea is to pre-download various transcripts into the History Moves website, with simple instructions to produce various word visualizations. This would be similar to the way Voyant uses the Jane Austen corpus as part of its user manual for each Voyant tool. Another possible angle is to customize a corpus, where each document focuses on the same turning point in these women’s lives; for example their reaction when they were first diagnosed.
For this proposal, I conducted preliminary research on a subset of transcripts. My Voyant corpus consists of six separate documents — transcripts from three Chicago women and three Brooklyn women: Bobbie, Sherrie and Sweet Pea from the original Chicago project and Carmen, Jeanette and Barbara from Brooklyn. I also downloaded a stopwords into the tool. (Something to consider is how our own subjective goals to return meaty words may influence the stop list.) I removed all the questions and only fed the answers into Voyant.
Here are some screenshots:
Below is a Cirrus word cloud with most frequent words in the corpus (six transcripts).
Below is an example of one of the (very disturbing) paragraphs containing “Mother” in Sherrie’s transcript. The Contexts tool can display sentences or longer sections of the text containing a specific word across transcripts.
He’d punch me until I couldn’t breathe. And my mother would say – what did you do to him? We were pretty poor, like I said, because my father couldn’t work at a young age, he only had like a Railroad Retirement. You didn’t go to the doctor unless you were really, really sick. I slept in a bedroom, it was actually the back porch, and you could probably actually be warmer sleeping in somebody’s garage.
Below is a link to the Voyant corpus I created (The link doesn’t reflect my stopwords or other modifications, however).
*NOTE (Originally mistakenly published as a “Page” March 7, 2017)