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Additional Findings and Interpretations (redirected from Our Findings and Interpretations)

Page history last edited by Alan Liu 8 years, 8 months ago

The main findings and interpretations about the class project are written up on our text analyses, topic models, and research on history of children's literature pages. The following are additional reflections drawn from our final papers. (Excerpts selected and lightly edited by our instructor.) The first excerpt is taken out of alphabetical order because its general observations on the interpretive opportunities and limitations of the project provide a good preface.)


Alec Killoran:


Over the course of our research project, each classmate expressed at some point or another their inability to get past one obstacle or another that prevented them from completing some task. Though most of the problems seemed to be related to technical difficulties, there was also a sense of stagnancy regarding the simple direction of the project. The nature of distant reading along with the research aspect of the project kept I and our class from driving forward to a meaningful conclusion for quite some time. With topic modeling in particular, conquering MALLET was daunting and frustrating. Perhaps more daunting, though, were the implications of having finished our MALLET runs. With usable topic models in hand, our task was extremely open ended....

In our class project ... we not only eliminated the middleman between us and the primary material, but we also helped to create the primary material. This is significant in the context of our class and distant reading because it highlights a fundamental hurdle that will be faced by any team engaged in distant reading—the absence of clear waypoints between a project’s inception and its conclusion. The process of human research is unestablished in this area. Once our team went through the established motions that spat out results, the clarity of instruction ended. In a way, our quandary was similar to that of the first literary critic. As the first literary critic had to decide what the best medium and process was for imparting criticism, so too did our class have to decide what we were going to do with the words before us.

It was at this point that I decided our group would organize topics from different sub-corpora into thematic groupings, from which we would draw subjective conclusions. In my mind, that decision was analogous to the first literary critic deciding to try chiseling his ideas on a stone. With no precedent from which to work (known to me), I felt it necessary to try some thing [sic], knowing that it would probably be flawed and rudimentary.... I would posit that until strong precedent is set, distant readers should follow [this] example and try new, untested, whacky research methodologies. It is possible, if not probable, that our conclusions were completely inaccurate and not at all indicative of close-reading findings of the source material. If [our] chosen methodology turns out to be a dud in future research projects, it should not be considered a failure. On the contrary, it should serve the same purpose to distant readers as the stone tablet did to the first literary critic. Much like identifying the stone tablet’s weight and space limitations as significant drawbacks, so too must distant readers identify the drawbacks of research methodologies. By identifying a methodology’s flaws, future distant readers can better optimize their research methodology. In light of this, it is clear to me that it is imperative for a distant reader to be both creative and willing to be wrong.

With regard to thematically grouping topic modeling results, I considered it to be a step away from simply examining single topics. The examination of single topics seemed neither new nor particularly useful. By naming individual topics and placing similar ones from other corpora under the same umbrella, we introduced a comparative element to the study of topics. Functionally, this accomplished two things—it ran the data through multiple subjective filters, and it cut out the topics creating “noise.” By “noise,” I mean the topics that found no categorical home, but nevertheless colored our perceptions of the topics that did due to their proximity. To be crude, we took many small things (novels), made them large (corpus), organized them (topic modeled), and then made them small again (thematic grouping of the topic models). Without a doubt, this methodology threw out a ton of material for the sake of simple clarity. Perhaps therein lies its largest flaw, but it yielded some results that naturally led to hard and fast conclusions. In distant reading, the modus operandi seems to consist of three basic steps: curation, organization, and reduction. With the existence of corpora and tools like Lexos, Mallet, AntConc and others, distant readers have a solid framework with which to accomplish the first two steps. How best to reduce and reorganize the data is a hurdle that every distant reader must clear on his or her own.


Lindsay Blackie:


Male writers often discuss issues of business and deals, but in an interesting turn of events, it is the female writers who talk about money in a concrete manner. One topic from the female corpus was, “11 0.344 money pay pounds poor paid business give sum fortune buy small sell debt hard bought poverty sold interest means.” As women rarely had an income of their own, issues of money and fortune often influenced who they were able to marry and what their life would be like after they married. In addition, they would be expected to do the shopping for the household, so they are dealing with the everyday costs of running a family that the male writers seem to consider less.


While our group identified multiple categories that revealed interesting through lines of topics, the way death is discussed by different authors is especially striking. The chart below shows topics identified as most relevant among the various corpora that were analyzed:


Death topic

The British male corpus weights death much higher than in the women’s corpus. And yet, words related to death and grieving make up four separate topics in the women’s corpus. This could point to the fact that male writers often experienced grief in a similar way, or that only a small number of works deal intensely with grief.

        In contrast, the way women write about grief varies around several different themes. The fourth topic in the above list is clearly about the immediate experience of loss. This is the shock and the pain that makes a person feel broken when they lose someone; it is an intense emotional expression. The fifth topic in the list is significantly gentler in its word choice, focusing more on euphemisms for death, especially in relation to a child. This sounds more like the way other people talk to a grieving mother at the death of a child. The second topic from the top does not mention death specifically, but it combines words that have to do with both suffering and strength, demonstrating how the experience of life was always intertwined with these two facets – the suffering of loss and the strength to continue on.


Jennifer Chang:


We also looked at gender in both a broad and narrow sense. We discovered that out of the 105 male authors and the 29 female authors, the men overwhelmingly wrote about male characters (with effectively zero of them in the corpus writing solely about female characters), and the women wrote mostly about female characters. ... It was also clear that the male characters in the aforementioned novels were also written more positively than the female characters. Men and boys were hardworking, adventurous, and pioneers; women were weak-willed, passive, and wholly uninteresting. While women and girls were featured in some of the novels, they almost always played supporting roles like wives or mothers, or the girls were secondary characters to the main male protagonist.


We also noticed that Jo's Boys, [by Louisa May Alcott, pub. 1886] while largely centered on boys and their activities, portrayed women and girls in a favorable light—well-mannered and self-sufficient. The novel featured high frequencies of words with positive connotation, such as “like,” “good,” “dear,” “great,” “happy,” “love,” and “better.” In contrast, G.A. Henty’s A Final Reckoning [1887] contained almost no mention of women, with a predominance of male-oriented words like “Mr.,” “master,” “man,” and “boy,” and that these words had a strong correlation to the word “work.”


Ginnie Chung:


... one thing was apparent: female writers [in our corpus children's fiction from the 1880s] wrote stories about female characters, while males wrote about males. Only four boys’ novels existed in our corpus that were were authored by women. At the time, it was natural for boys to be associated with adventure, and girls with domesticity. So why did these female authors even bother to attempt—and succeed—at writing boy’s fiction?


I recovered possible consequential reasons why. Juliana Ewing’s "Jackanapes" (1884) tells the story of a Waterloo cavalry officer’s son who sacrifices his life to save his childhood friend. Like many novels of the time, this one is set during the time of—and provides social commentary on—war; and considering Ewing was a 1880s female writer on children’s fiction, the tale did not fit well with the rest of our corpus.


boy, girl, men, women termsThese graphs [of selected gender-related words in the work] are strikingly similar to those found in almost all our preliminary research on texts by male authors. There is a low frequency of female characters, so not only does Ewing tell a boy’s adventure story but she also follows the dialect and language pattern of male writers of the time. Research shows that she was raised by a single mother, married a man of the army, lived in an army town, and was given a military funeral. She was influenced by and admired all things military. So although an adventure novel on war is not normal for females writers, Ewing had plenty reason to do so. But why didn’t she relay this adventure story to females?


Another work raises questions and supports similar findings. Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote Little Roy Fauntleroy [1886], a story of a poor American boy who turns out to be the long-lost heir and is sent to live with a hardhearted lord.


Little Roy Fauntleroy word cloud

Of course, with no surprise, the word “boy” has a high frequency. Why did Burnett decide to write a story featuring a male character anyway? This text was written for the St. Nicholas Magazine, a publication that started in 1873 and ended in 1940. The founders of this magazine were both females, and the first issue was called St. Nicholas: Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys. Was there a group of female writers who wished to unite boys and girls literature, and this magazine was it? Many questions can be asked why gender roles were so disconnected in children fiction—adult fiction proved to be very different. Concepts that explain this distinction are time and originality.


Maithy Do:


Typically, war and violence are associated with manhood, and it is not surprising that these were topics commonly written about by British male authors. Britain was the world’s most powerful country during the Victorian age.... Amongst the British male authors in our corpus, the following topic had the most weight... : “men troops army force strong place attack marched march soldiers town camp command morning side enemy position orders small”.... [This topic makes it seem that these men are] with their troops at camp waiting for the command to attack their enemy. There is no emotion, but rather direct descriptions of what is occurring. The next topic in weight is: “battle fight fell ground fought victory field led front day success desperate ranks driven centre fresh struggle sides fallen”. This topic indicates that there was a victory, perhaps after days of struggle. Again, there is no emotion other than “desperate”, indicating that these men were very focused on the war and the task at hand. They probably did not have time to think about whether or not they were scared because there was always a battle that needed to be fought. In addition, war involved the entire nation, as seen by the following topic: “war people land peace power state party end fighting portion years leaders military terms government called struggle time influence”. These men are fighting a war for their nation, as indicated by “state,” “party,” and “government.” It has been occurring for years, as Britain expands as a nation. British male authors are stoic in writing about the war; there is little to no emotion; rather, they convey the action of war.


British female authors, on the other hand, focus largely on death and sorrow.... The topic with the highest weight includes: “life pain hard bear heart future suffering strong strength rest power world happiness find impossible suffer bitter hours mind”. While British male authors focused on the actions of the war, women authors wrote about the long bitter hours of suffering.


Ashley Jeun:


Among the topics we labeled “Conversations and Speech,” the highest weighted occurred in our 1880s British Female adult author corpus: “people, understand, talk, suppose, knew, speak, word, idea, find, heart, talking.” These words correlate to conversational and dictated speech between two or more individuals. The second highest weighted topic occurred in our 1880s British Male adult author corpus: “people, talk, deal, call, suppose, men, pleasant, conversation, nice, talking, fact, laughing.” The third most important also occurred in 1880s British Male adult fiction: “question, matter, present, people, opinion, subject, facts, interest, view, difficulty, idea, order, decided.”  It appears that among male authors the topics [related to conversations and speech] deal with opinionated decisions, personal views, and social calls.... An interesting finding ... is that authors of 1880s British Male fiction mention more physically reactive behavior traits than either authors of children’s literature or female authors.... Male authorial behavior seems to be both visually aggressive and bodily active in conversations, and is more focused on taking quick action and solving problems through eventful meetings.


Eve Kopecky:


[Our English 197 class] assembled a corpus of 19th-century children’s books that could be studied through text analysis and topic modeling to bring to view some very fascinating issues about the novels and their relationship with their time period. One focus of our research and analysis was how gender roles played a part in the plot line of the children’s novels as well in the authorship of the stories themselves. It was apparent that the majority of the novels collected were written by men. Of those tales written by men, none portrayed a female main character and few even had any important female presence that could be deciphered through the Voyant or Lexos tools. The significantly smaller number of novels written by authoresses mostly focused on females as their principle character, but they also featured a few with males as central or strong supporting characters.


On average, most of the male-authored stories analyzed in this corpus contained significantly higher frequencies of masculine pronouns, while the same pattern with feminine pronouns occurred in books written by females.


In many of the works about males, there are repeated word patterns related to such subjects as sea voyages, Native Americans, and boarding school. Repeated words throughout the male corpus allude to adventurous tales or ... the boarding school education system for boys. The female-written works incorporated in this study often contain different kinds of repeated vocabulary. For lack of a better description, the female-focused books contained more language pertaining to family, emotions, and in particular the word “home.” In a comparison between six separate 19th century children’s novels, three written by women and three by men, the recurrence of the singular noun “home” is on average substantially higher in the books written by females than that of males.


Sinead Leon:


As expected the male authors wrote significantly more about boys than girls. The majority of the books dealt with a group of boys going on adventures and learning how to become a man.... An interesting observation is that every male author incorporated the idea of heroism in his tales. For instance, a young boy would find a way to help out his family, all while going through the challenges of manhood on his own (as in the case of Oliver Optic's All Adrift [1882]).... There was never a female soldier who helped her country achieve victory, or a woman who struggled to provide for her family.... Even in the book that was written by a male but addressed to both genders the females are not nearly as “wild” as the boys are. This made me wonder whether only the male authors had this idea about women, or if women authors shared this idea with them. By studying six texts written by female authors I came to realize that for the most part they do. The stories that these women wrote about girls were not tales of adventures or struggle. They were tales of relationships, and marriage, and kids.


Besides checking for the frequency of a word I would take a look at the correlated words with it. Words used to describe men and boys were words of admiration. About how strong, brave, smart, demanding they were. The words that were used to describe women and girls were as if someone was talking about a fine piece of china, words that conveyed delicacy and uncertainness.


This type of project demands more time than what we had this quarter. Many questions remain unanswered, and many more are only starting to flourish. We hope that this is only the groundwork for future students, and that they continue with the analysis [of] 1880s childrens' literature. Although, distant reading proved to be helpful and efficient for the work we were doing, I can now say that I do have a preference between close reading and distant reading.... The connection the reader makes with a book cannot be replaced by technology. Flipping through the pages, highlighting, and making notes on the parts that provoke a thought or that leave me puzzled is more enjoyable to me. Although I learned a lot by analyzing several texts [using text analysis methods], I feel that I did not get to make a connection with any. I was not attached to the characters because I did not follow what they were going through.


Aaron Woldhagen:


Family appears to have been a central topic in almost all of our corpus's subsections [consisting of adult literature written by male authors, children’s literature written by male authors, the children’s literature written by female authors, and children’s literature corpus written by both male and female authors].

It is unsurprising to me that most of the works for which family was a clear topic are to be found in the children’s corpus, as I would hypothesize that children are being taught and socialized with certain family values at this stage in their life. However, I am surprised that it was the adult male corpus that contained family topics, as I would have expected the female corpus to be more family oriented.

Upon taking a closer look at the topics in the male corpus, I found that they included words like “years, house, life, mother, family, father, children, age, wife, lived, died, married, and born.” These are all words that more or less have to do with life events like marriage, having children, becoming a father/mother, and then dying. It makes sense why adult literature would be more geared toward these things, especially when written by a man, because the man in this time is viewed as the “builder” of the family. It is his responsibility to find a wife and have children and then to bring home money and food to care for his family. On the same note, there is not going to be a lot of focus on time spent with the family because oftentimes the man is going to be out in the world working and the woman is going to be at home taking care of the children. So it is easy to see why the male corpus would represent family in the more abstract sense....

There were three topics in the children’s British female corpus that had to deal with family and family matters. A sampling of words from the first of these topics is as follows: “father, mother, dear, years, pay, account, send, world, aunt, household, sisters, fault, afternoon, daughter, strangers, wanted, meeting.” As far as I can tell, this topic paints the family more in the light of family matters relating to other people, or family matters related to “accounts” or money (as may be assumed by the words “pay” and “account” being in the same topic). Due to some findings elsewhere in the topic models about women dealing with money ... I am willing to make the assumption that this may in fact be about money matters and the family. However, there is not enough evidence to confirm it.

I would like to point out, additionally, that for my first time practicing “distant” reading, I have learned a lot. However, with the amount of evidence that we were actually able to pull out and analyze, I believe that the method of “distant” reading was incredibly lacking in helping me to understand the themes of the corpus as a whole. Throughout this paper most of the “conclusions” that I have been drawing are largely inferential and I am not confident in many of them.

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