This semester I encountered an interesting scenario in an undergraduate student essay. The student had counted the number of occurrences of a couple of words in a poem and concluded that, because the counts for word 1 and for word 2 were close, two concepts the words expressed were thematically related in the poem.
What the student got wrong:
- The student failed to get the counts right because she did a simple word search that did not account for morphological/spelling variants (this was a Middle English text) or close synonyms.
- Assuming that two concepts are related thematically because the words that express them occur in near equal numbers in a text is a logical fallacy.
What the student got right:
- The student tried to apply a quantitative method to understand the text in a new way.
Of course, there is nothing specifically “DH” about what the student did, other than using a browser’s search function. Before the days when this was possible, the technique would have been called “philology”, and that too is a good thing. Regardless of whether or not the student’s inspiration was facilitated by the availability of a digital tool, I was really delighted to see a student using a methodology which is very unfamiliar to most literature students these days—even in a very limited way.… Read more…