What is Voyant tools??
The simple answer is that a free online text analysis software. It’s a tool which greatly facilitates analysis of large text and offer a way to represent the data visually through a plethora of options to see how words are connected, where they are encountered and even the context of each occurrence.
Its only after using it and analyzing some large texts with it you realize its true potential, there are many ways to represent the same information the varying degree accuracy that it can be slightly overwhelming at first. You can start from something quite simple such as the most recurring words in the text but then very simply add an extra layer of complexity to your analysis by obtaining the most common terms collating with these and where in the text does it occur (and reoccur). Voyant then offers multiple ways to visualize and present these relations which can be further tweaked and personalized to personal preference or needs and can be easily exported for use in documents.
What are its limitations
Firstly, we must look at what Voyant tools really is, an algorithm. All of it is just code, and thus it doesn’t have an actual understanding of language. To its credit though it does very well to automatically remove some words such as “the” or “and” from its analysis of texts as these would most certainly be the most common otherwise. It does however treat words such as “America” and “American” as completely independent and separate words when you could argue that they should be treated as one and the same. In similar spirit the term “United Nations” should be treated the same as the term “UN” instead of two separate words for example. its there that lies one of the key weakness for Voyant, it doesn’t necessarily give context and its accuracy is by the simple comparisons that it can make.
Why is this useful and where / how do we use it?
Well if truth be told, Voyant doesn’t do anything new, you could (technically) do everything Voyant does by hand though it would extremely tedious and unpleasant. What Voyant gives us (as historians and analyst of texts) is tremendous Quality of life improvement in our disciplines. It does in seconds work that by hand would take hours if not days of tedious work and perhaps more importantly, it provides us with a variety way to visualize and present our findings. This is arguably the most crucial point as no matter how great your work or research is if you cannot present it in a meaningful way for your audience to understand you have not yourself or your work justice.
Another effective use of Voyant would be to use for finding a place to start to analyze the text as for some inexperienced historians (such as myself) or even extremely large body of text (religious or law) as starting the task can be difficult at times. This could also be useful when searching for a specific topics within a large such as for example Josef’s role in bible.