It Hits Close to Home

I've lived in Tulsa for just over a year now, but I'd spent my entire life in Arkansas until the big move. When poring through The Crisis, my first inclination was to see how many times Arkansas and Oklahoma appeared. It's no secret that both Arkansas and Oklahoma have had catastrophic racially motivated massacres. Using Voyant, I was able to pinpoint the related issues quickly, as well as compare their total mention frequencies.






I was somewhat...relieved? that Arkansas and Oklahoma didn't come up as frequently as the Deep South, but it was still gut-wrenching to read the listings of lynchings that occurred. The Elaine Massacre happened in early October 1919, but I was fascinated to read about a lumber plant employing 500 African Americans in Crossett and plans for new manufacturing plants in Hot Springs in the November Issue. A year and a half after the Elaine Massacre the Tulsa "Race Riot" Massacre occurred, and the July 1921 Issue  does feature a chilling report and a photograph of the devastation. This is the ugliest possible history, but it's absolutely crucial that we learn from it to heal the country and the people. 

Voyant Tools Lab Post

The process of visualizing was very interesting because the unique images and ways to look at and analyze a text really enlightened me to different ways that I can view a text. Looking up words in the text and viewing specific trends on them really enhances this concept of "reading a text." Playing with and maneuvering the different tools allowed me to be placed in a different context of "The Crisis" with each new tool that I observed. For example, the visualization tool Mandela was particularly fun to engage in. It was similar to a web of words all connected through different colors. When the cursor was placed over a particular area, the lines connected to specific words would connect to one particular "Crisis" section, but I would like to learn more about how this works specifically because this looks to be a useful tool. While trying to figure out how to make this tool concrete I found where Voyant gives a description of the tool and states, "Mandela is a conceptual visualization that shows the relationship between terms and documents. Each search term (or magnet) pulls documents toward it based on the term's relative frequency in the corpus." I'm interested to unpack this to see how I can implement this tool in the future.

Feminism in The Crisis

As someone who relies on skimming content occasionally when pressed for time, I feel Voyant Tools gives me superhuman abilities to search for content I need. Similar to Google delivering me results based on keywords used in online content (or embedded in the back end of a content management system, Voyant allows me to select specific online content in which to search for keywords. Having seen that The New Freewoman was once an option for perusal in this lab, I was inspired to search The Crisis for a keyword that would overlap with the previously mentioned publication: Women (both the word and the root).

You can see in this graph there are a few key areas where the word (or root word) "women" was mentioned more frequently than others, so I decided to test a hypothesis: Did the two issues with the most significant amount of mentions focus on equal rights for women? I pulled up another Voyant window and searched only for “rights” to get the results below.

That graph also peaks on the two issues that most frequently use the word (or root word) “women,” so I decided to check those issues out. Beginning in order of date, I went to Volume 4, Issue 5 of The Crisis which was published in September 1912, almost eight years before the 19th amendment was ratified.

Based on the title, "Women's Sufferage Number" I can see why this issue would mention “women” and “rights” more often than other issues, which led me to assume that the following issue must also deal with women’s suffrage. So, to investigate, I pulled up Volume 10, Issue 4 of The Crisis which was published in August 1915, still five years before the adoption of the 19th amendment.

Not a shocking result that the title of this issue is "Votes for Women." As you can see by the cover, this issue also focuses heavily on women’s suffrage. Although neither of them fall on the ratification of the 19th amendment, these issues still hold key perspectives on the women’s suffrage movement, and I feel there is an excellent opportunity to use Voyant in the future to explore this topic, and endless others, in depth.

Tracking Controversy

The process of visualizing The Crisis allowed for a more distant reading of the text, enabling me to follow trends/issues rather than reading piecemeal updates. In an attempt to view the effects of a singular event, I've inserted an image below (as I was foiled in an attempt to embed a view via HTML) of the graphed instances where the phrase "Birth of a Nation" appears in The Crisis. I was interested in following the discussion of the release and reception of the controversial white supremacist film, which was protested by the NAACP. The first ocurrence of the film title in The Crisis is in the context of a May 1915 article titled "An Instance of the Way the NAACP Works." 

The graph evidences the surge (and later resurgence) of evaluation and protests of the film. The initial NAACP efforts to censor the film for its racist content were dispelled by the approval of the Board of Censorship. I searched The Crisis for "Board of Censorship," and, surprisingly, the relative frequency graph looked like a singular spike in usage, which implies that the release of "Birth of a Nation" was, at least in The Crisis, the most inflammatory episode of controversy with the Board of Censorship. (The major spike in frequency of "Board of Censorship" comes from the same issue of the first mention of "Birth of a Nation.") This mainly raises more questions for me. What was the relationship between the NAACP and the Board of Censorship? Was Birth of a Nation a singular event, the epicenter of film censorship and racial conflict, or was it just the only one (or the most chronologically significant one) to be covered in depth by The Crisis? (Where is Dr. Jackson when you need him?) The structural evaluation afforded by Voyant is a helpful way to reveal these initial relationships to be explored by later close reading.


Voyant Tools and Crisis Magazine

As the Crisis was a magazine written for African Americans and their experiences in the early 20th century, I focused my graph searches on their concerns over time. Looking at the word war, it is one of the most frequently used ones in the series. Black soldiers did their best to volunteer despite racism in the the first world war.

Of note, I found no mention for racist or racisim, but I did find words for discrimination and prejudice. However, the graph shows that these mentions are lowered over time. I do not belive it is because of ending racism, because I found many instances of the word lynching below.

I believe, based on the data, that African Americans became more concerned with other major issues over time, especially past world war I. If you look at the graph below, mentions of money, homes, and education, and college started taking over talking point distrubution after the war.

The highest points at the end are money and home, which seems to become a major factor when talking about the issues that effected them the most. Economic factors became a bigger concern over time as jobs and education took the forefront of their needs.

On a side note, the word negro appears to decline over time, while the word black takes the place of favor of the the writers. I do not know what this switch is to be attributed to, as the data is insufficient to hazard a guess at the time I am writing this. I can say it is a fact that the terminology for African Americans has changed many times over the centuries, including, Negro, Colored, Black, and Afro American. Based on that, I would observe African Americans want to shape their own cultural identity outside of how others view them, on their own terms. This magazine was one way for them to have the freedom to take charge of their own destinies and strive toward a better future despite the inequalities they endured.


Poking around on the Voyant page for the Crisis was kind of fun! I initially was having some bug trouble with the drill-down feature—I was trying to see the distribution of terms within a document but I don’t think the website would let me. Regardless, I found that “school” and “high” were both markedly popular words in volume 22, no. 3, which was published in 1917, although I don’t know the significance of that. It was also interesting to make connections that I could have already put together but for my lack of historical knowledge. For example, “women” was used most in volume 10, no. 4, which I see was published in 1915, the year of a notable women’s suffrage march.
I was also interested in and amused by Veliza. I don’t know if I gained anything about the actual text of the Crisis from this tool, but it was certainly entertaining, and at the least I gained some decontextualized familiarity with the various issues from the fragments spit out when I selected the “from text” response option. Thinking of temporary structures within a historical flow, from Moretti: I remember being in New York and being surprised to see ads on the subway about an app that would connect you with a therapist to text back and forth with. This format of a text conversation between therapist and “patient” feels like an example of Voyant’s playing around with a temporary structure (texting with a therapist, a structure of the current moment) within the historical flow of data visualization. (This is not even to get into the way that psychotherapy has evolved over the years into a dynamic that works through texting.)

Bornstein and the Experience of Reading "Prufrock"

It was supposed to be posted a week before, but it took me some more time to finish it after I started drafting last week. 

Bornstein’s article enlightened me about how the work of literary art can be interpreted better and more affluently by considering the whole context in which the text is placed. In “How to read a page: modernism and material textuality,” he breaks down the main ideas of recent editorial theory for page reading into several aspects: “awareness of its constructedness and of multiple alternatives” (6) and the recognition of “bibliographic code” along with “its linguistic code” (6). He then demonstrates through his reading of four sonnets by John Keats, Emma Lazarus, W.B.Yeats, and Gwendolyn Brooks how interpretations and readings of the same linguistic codes are changed by the different bibliographic codes. He shows that studying the multiple sites of appearance for the literary work enables the reader to see what’s been emphasized/erased from the work in each site and to read historical, political, or aesthetical context of the work.


His demonstration of reading sonnets reminded me of my experience of reading “Prufrock” last week. I first read it in The Norton Anthology and then the Catholic Anthology “Prufrock” and the comic version of it. When I read the poem from The Norton Anthology, it was like the poem was standing alone even though there were several other pieces that follow by Eliot because I didn’t read the introductory note for T. S. Eliot that comes beforehand as well as other works that come afterwards. So, my experience of reading “Prufrock” from the Anthology was to pay close attention to its aesthetics and message, connecting it to the other works by Eliot that I have read before. However, when I read it from the Catholic Anthology, it created a whole new story, totally different from what I got from The Norton Anthology. Yeats’s “The Scholars,” at the beginning of the book, opens a way to Eliot’s poems, and his poem sarcastically emphasizes the disparity between the poet and the scholars’ understanding of a love poem, which kind of sets a very different tone for reading Eliot’s poems from what Norton Anthology creates. And the collection of Eliot’s poems interacts with each other as if they were written as a set that provides both man and woman’s view respectively in a love relationship. Other poems by other poets in the Catholic Anthology after Eliot also add the similar tone to each other, which helps the readers to see more of an atmosphere shared by the contemporary writers than just the aesthetics of one poem. In the comic version, on the other hand, the background scenes I only vaguely imagined, such as the street scenes, personified “yellow fog” and “yellow smoke,” and the tea cups, caught my eyes and was lifted to the extent that has an equal importance as other things in the poem. As Bornstein demonstrates that “[t]racing the multiple sites of the poem reveals alternate material components of meaning” (31), reading “Prufrock” from different sites proves the possibility of varied interpretation of the poem depending on which site one encounters it.

Direct visualization

I enjoyed Manovich’s essay on visualization. I had previously thought of information visualization/infovis in the way that computer scientists tend to define it, as interactive visual interfaces on the computer. It was interesting to consider a traffic light as an example of infovis (and one that privileges the dimension of color). I was also interested in the concept of visualization without reduction, or direct visualization. I love the idea of the tag cloud that came out of Flickr circa 2005 being a sort of ideal type of visualization in which every part of the data (the text being searched) is fully shown, with the size of a word in relationship to its usage frequency. I also watched some of Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen's Listening Post and was so fascinated ( The visualization/voiceover is fragmented, but it is direct, and in addition to being an innovative example of real-time infovis, it captures the essence of that golden early-2000s era of AIM messaging (“I’m 18M,” “I am still used to Windows,” “I am stuck in Oklahoma”) and the weird prophetic nature of half-formed messages (“I am not really”). A favorite infovis of mine is Festify, which takes your Spotify listening data and formats your most-listened-to artists (in the past month, in the past six months, or of all time) into a festival lineup. Although it's a reductive visualization, at least in my case it makes for a kind of fun subversion of music-industry hierarchies as DIY emo bands appear next to Taylor Swift and Coldplay:

Who is Reading my Immortal Art?

Every modernist has this moment of profound grief when they discover that the novels, poems, and plays they find sacred, the ones that warranted a century of study and will demand more time still, are only a fraction of what people during the early twentieth century actually read. And we all kind of possess the same hard-wired snobbery: pop is stupid, but it will always be with us—as Jesus said of the poor—and we must develop some kind of defense in our gut to make sure we don’t end up listening to BTS on shuffle. Of course, the importance of a democratizing, global pop group like BTS can’t possibly be understated. It appears pop is the only global language we can really understand. And that’s kind of beautiful. Still, the snobbery remains, and young modernists like myself—who probably have a lot in common with the pop-is-stupid-coffee-shop-kids—will continue to work, driven by the absolute certainly that the art we study was the most real, the most visceral of the time period.

What I’m trying to say is this: Moretti’s article points out a kind of stunning flaw in how we measure the consumption of literature as either entertainment or professional practice today. We can measure who is writing, where they are publishing, what percentage of poems/stories are accepted by which popular magazines, but no one cares to wonder who the fuck is reading any of our real, visceral art. What is true of 1808 is true of today: “audiences turn resolutely—and irreversibly—to the current season” (Moretti 8). But maybe our current seasons is more difficult—or even impossible—to chart. As mass media gets, well, massier, so does its atomization. The consumption of art becomes at once monolithic and totally infinite as audio technology and amateur publishing become more and more accessible. For every BTS, there are thousands of bedroom pop musicians who play for an audience of one. For every Rupi Kaur, there are thousands of poets shilling their poems on Tumblr. Listen. I publish my poems in great, renowned magazines who have published Pulitzer laureates, and the most I talk about those poems is on Tinder. Who besides my matches on Tinder is opening these literary magazines and consuming this shit?

Manovich and Moretti on Visualization

Should I be surprised, at this point, at the diversity of approaches to any element of digital or visual humanities? This week's readings from Manovich and Moretti model the expansive ideology of visual representations of literary or humanities content, with Manovich focusing on the technology and structure of visualization (culminating in a vision of "visualization without reduction" (12)) while Moretti pursues the relationship between visual representations of inherently abstract or theoretical elements. I am temperamentally attracted to Moretti's idealistic introduction, which poses visualization as an agent of the tension between the abstract and the concrete, of past and future:

"Finally, these three models are indeed... abstract. But their consequences are on the other hand extremely concrete: graphs, maps, and trees place the literary field literally in front of our eyes-- and show us how little we still know about it. It is a double lesson, of humility and euphoria at the same time: humility for what literary history has accomplished so far (not enough), and euphoria for what still remains to be done (a lot). Here, the methodology of the book reveals its pragmatic ambition: for me, abstraction is not an end in itself, but a way to widen the domain of the literary historian, and enrich its internal problematic" (2).

Manovich seems to value information visualization as an end in itself, a new stop on the ever-expanding subway map of literary studies, if you will. His project "Mapping Time" is a constructed artifact of Time magazine covers from 1923 to 2009, and he notes that this visual arrangement reveals trends of cover saturation and contrast that can be placed and analysed within a historical context. He praises the high-resolution computing power that allows the preservation of detail and color (for "visualization without reduction"). However, while preserving all aspects of "visualization," Manovich's project is still a condensation, a compressed vision of the information it holds; hence, its analysis produces generalizations and trends rather than comprehensive structure. I admire his archival impulse. But I appreciate Moretti's exploration of visual mapping as a circular project of referentiality, rather than a linear expansion. Moretti's humble summary of data visualization is a representative abbreviation of complexity: "Granted, things are not always so neat. But when they are, it's interesting" (42).