One of the reasons the History Moves interviews, and similar exhibits, are so moving and engaging is because they attach human individuals to stories that are often generalized or lumped together, allowing the viewer to connect more deeply with each experience. In class, we spoke about various topics that are gleaned from these interviews, and have seen the interviews broken down into various parts dealing with family, grief, neighborhood, and survival, among others.
What is most fascinating to me as a reader and listener is the specifics of the massive, heroic feat that I imagine must be daily life with HIV/AIDS. I was moved by seeing how light can possibly show through in these situations. I propose an analysis that reveals how these individuals cope or retain their strength, hope, and even grace. This might be created through a combination of a subjective and objective analysis to determine what features or specific details the most hopeful interviews had in common.
This involves subjective analysis, a close read if you will, of each interview, by classifying each interview or portion of interview as more or less hopeful or light.
For example, one could dig into each interview and place the interviewee’s level of hope on a five point scale, from least hopeful, to most hopeful. You could then go in, sentence by sentence, and encode each sentence, or each paragraph, or each interview, with a topic. Did a sentence, paragraph or interview prominently feature a friend or family member or particular ritual? Did Church or a frequented landmark feature prominently? How do these tagged topics relate (or not) to the (subjectively) more hopeful interviews?
The answers to these questions are of course subjective, but so is each individual’s experience of reading or listening to these interviews.
Once the word, paragraph, or interview was placed on a scale of lightness or hope, and the sentences, paragraphs or other portions are tagged by topic, one could perform a basic analysis by counting the references to each tagged topic. What topics did the most hopeful interviews mention the most frequently?
I understand that one has to be cautious not to paint a story that is not there, and I think using words like “hopeful” to describe someone else’s painful or traumatic experience could be dangerous. However, I think this text encoding is similar to other examples of project work we have viewed in class, such as classifying different portions of an interview as “surviving” – who gets to decide where in an interview that occurs, or what ‘surviving’ means for another person?
As we approach the limitations of a subjective analysis, I think we approach a discussion of the discipline of digital humanities, which is perhaps more art than science, inverting and rearranging texts and data to view an experience in a new light or to reach for something meaningful that was not originally evident; something does not necessarily have to reflect absolute truth to be valuable, informative or transformative. It should be emphasized that we are viewing a collective experience, a public history, and perhaps any commentary stemming from such an analysis could discuss these limitations.
Having this said, a gentler or fairer alternative analysis might remove any judgement or label of ‘hope’ or ‘positivity’ and focus exclusively on topics that each woman had in common. I imagine using a program like Voyant to search the entire collection of interviews for similar words or phrases, arranged according to topic. The portions of these interviews mentioning these topics could be extracted and placed side-by-side to see how each woman interacted with each topic, and to also observe how each woman fit into the larger experience presented by History Moves. In this way, the project can retain an individual woman’s identity, story, and voice, while also observing the full, collective context of which it is part.
The benefit of this type of analysis is to enhance certain feelings one gets by experiencing the exhibit. In my mind, the strengths and benefits of History Moves involve enhancing each woman’s voice, telling an incredibly powerful story of human hardship and resilience. Collecting and analyzing portions of the interview by topic retain the original motivations and results of History Moves and display the essential parts of the exhibit in a different way.