Post 4: Voyant Tools and Textual Analysis

Voyant Tools is a website that provides a free, easy to use, text analysis tool.  Any text can be pasted into the box, allowing the website to create data that comes from the words that are in the text.  For historians, it gives the ability to quickly analyze patterns in larger texts, which I think would help with historical analysis.  We discussed in class a lot how text analysis should be used, however, I think that the methodology is significant to show how things, like Voyant Tools, can help historians.  Through computer programs, larger text analysis provides a starting off point for more in depth reading and analysis.  By seeing what kind of words are used how often in a text it gives you an idea of what the text is about, and the nature of the text.  This information alone isn’t useful historically, but what this information can lead to could benefits historians.

Though I do think that there are ways that text analysis programs could hinder historical analysis.  It could potentially limit the perspective of the deeper reading by the historian that would occur after using the computer program.  For example, after the 95 Theses are run through Voyant Tools, it states that the two most commonly used words are “indulgences” and “pope.”  This gives the historian an insight into the main focus of this text, however, it could also limit the historian to just looking for these topics.  Essentially it could blindfold the historian to look only for specific things, while other aspects of the text could be just as important.  However, this potential hindrance is mainly a problem of the historian, not a problem of the text analysis program.

The Voyant Tools results for the 95 Theses


I think that programs, like Voyant Tools, do not give anything new that couldn’t be accessed before, but rather, it makes what was extremely hard to access now easily accessible.  The amount of times the words “indulgences” and “pope” appeared in the 95 Theses can be counted out by hand, however, the text analysis programs make it a quick and easy task.  What before may have taken hours or days, now takes seconds.  It is another tool for a historian to use in making their own analysis of a text.

Overall, I think that this kind of textual analysis, through Voyant Tools, does help improve traditional historical reading skills.  In specific situations it can make some steps of large text analysis easier and quicker.  The results can become a jumping off point for the in depth reading that would take place after.  It gives the historian an idea of what to look for in a text, while also showing how the words relate to other words.

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