Assignment 2: Myth, Reason, Faith

voyant creation

My corpus, a compilation of class notes from the Comparative Humanities core course “Myth, Reason, Faith,” was inspired by the creative process of essay topic generation.  My goal is to visualize theme patterns across texts in order to make potential essay topics more easily noticeable.  I organized notes into separate documents for each text.  For the purpose of essay writing, the “trends” feature of Voyant is useful for tracking terms over time, as long as the user sorts the documents by age beforehand.  I am interested in the “creation” trend because most of its occurrences take place in the earliest texts of the course – with the exception of the Aeneid which, modeling itself after Homeric texts, is the creation epic of Rome.  Although the Epistles also mention of “creation,” the word is much more common in the pagan creation texts.  There must be some reason why the monotheistic authors did not feel the need to write in depth about creation.  Were some notions of creation passed down from paganism to monotheism?  In general, using my corpus in Voyant seems more useful for studying than essay writing.  The word cloud and the corpus summary would be especially hellpful when studying for the final oral exams.

voyant word cloud

The word cloud displays all of the course’s most common words, which could be a good preview of the questions that might be asked on the final.  The “distinctive words” in the corpus summary offer a quick refresher for every text.  Not every text is summarized in a useful way, The Iliad is reduced to “achilles (6), patroclus (5), briseis (3), tears (2), objects (2);” but for someone who is already familiar with the epic, it gives me enough insight to jog my memory.

jigsaw list sacrifice

The visualizations Jigsaw offers are more directly useful for the purpose of essay inspiration.  If I wanted to write an essay about sacrifice, I could click on the concept in the list view and it would find all the texts in which “sacrifice” is mentioned.  Jigsaw’s graph and circular graph views are most elegant for comparing two concepts.

jigsaw graph nostos,nature

For example, I considered the concepts “Nostos” (homecoming) and “nature.”  Both concepts are mentioned in The Oresteia and Daniel, and the topics of “God,” “Greece,” and “power” also share common ground in the two texts.  The ability to view such connections all at once makes it simpler to discern which essay topics are more viable than others.  The process of coming up with humanities essay topics is the same with or without Voyant and Jigsaw, but the visualization platforms offer multidimensional viewpoints that expose every possible connection, not just the tired connections (i.e. the “simplified and immutable truths”) every student learns about from professors’ canonized lectures and chooses to write about based on familiarity.  The process of creating this corpus and choosing the entities with which to analyze it also helped me think about “Myth, Reason, Faith” critically.  Voyant and Jigsaw do not entirely remove the human element of creativity within the humanities because the humanist must still choose which concepts to analyze; but the platforms might function as an effective essay outline.

DuBois Installation


DuBois is an artist, and therefore his work is aesthetically motivated; however, his work also has an intended audience, such as the installation of word clouds composed from presidential State of the Union addresses created for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  He uses computer algorithms to make his art statistically significant and precise, and uses conventional artistic media to make his computer algorithms aesthetically significant.  For example, his Self Portrait is a force directed graph of every email he has ever received, labeled in DuBois’ own handwriting.  The computer-generated graph, created from DuBois’ “digital biography,” is infused with part of his humanistic identity.

Successful Maps – Interactive and Static

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The ongoing project Seattle Band Map is an interactive visualization of the northwest’s music scene, allowing viewers to explore the relationships between artists and their collaborations, venues, and personal relationships.  Seeing bands through their connections rather than their body of work offers viewers a different perspective in which the differences between the Seattle-popular Soul, Funk, and Grunge genres are invisible but unrepresented artists and genres are spotlighted.  Most recently updated artists, artists with the most connections, and most popular artists are listed at the bottom of the map.  Artist bios include a list of their connections, location, a link to their website, and the names of the members.


Mapping 31 Days in Iraq is a static visualization, in the words of Sinclair a “[tool] for display,” presenting one unchanging perspective of the data.  However, the visualization is created in a way that forces the viewer to interact with the information and read each Iraqi day like a playing card: civilian of hostile fire, American forces of car bombs.  This visualization does not simplify numeric data in order to make it easily digestible for viewers to see and understand faster than they would if they were to glance over a spreadsheet.  Instead, Mapping 31 Days in Iraq organizes numeric data (“based on data from the American, British and Iraqi governments and news reports,” and likely incomplete due to “the fog of war”) to create a visceral impact on the viewer through interaction with the visualization.  The visualization’s author, Alicia Cheng, intentionally complicated the data in order to facilitate interaction; viewers are guided to digest the data day by day, slowing the examination process and therefore prompting reflection.