When it came to this visualization project, I wanted to continue working on student publications- this is when I found transcribed editions of ‘Quest- An Anthology of Verse’, which contains poetry composed by the students and alumnae of Mundelein College in the items, kindly provided, by the Women & Leadership Archives (WLA). This anthology began in 1932, and I have taken six volumes as a part of my content corpus. I decided to go ahead with ‘Quest’ since I thought it would be interesting to see how I can play with Voyant to uncover larger themes around student poetry. I was particularly interested in a statement made in the first edition which was published on Mother’s Day, and contained poems written by the contributors to honor their mothers. The statement was to foster women’s poetry specifically poetry related to the divine, since some of the writers were also nuns whose poetry definitely has a religious focus. I was touched by the common refrain in all of the forewords to encourage the work of the students who bring their passion, values and experiences to the poetry.
India has a rich tradition of religious poetry the Bhakti Movement is an example, I have always been fascinated by how the female Bhakti poets represented the divine in their writings. So, when I approached these texts, I wanted to uncover the themes- what words/phrases do the young poets use to reveal their thoughts on the divine? What are the larger themes which emerge from the samples?
The very first thing, I did was to create a ‘Cirrus’ of the words appearing in the corpus. I removed words which weren’t relevant for the visualisation including words such as page, break, articles, pronouns, prepositions etc. The result was this word cloud shown below.
Based on the information in the ‘Summary’ tool which was very useful, I was able to see that the most common words throughout the six texts were –
I was able to notice a lot of words related to nature and religion, words such as ‘night’, ‘white’, ‘light’, to further understand how it links to other terms. Using the ‘Links’ option I was able to find words such as ‘mystic’, ‘god’ , which again revealed the religious motif in the poetry present in the anthology.
I, then used the tool ‘Word Tree’ tool to visualise the contexts in which these words were written. By clicking on the keywords of the most common words across the corpus, I was able to see the words associated with them. For instance, with the word ‘light’, I was able to see in association with other words such as ‘heavenly’, ‘lamb’, which does bring to mind a distinctly Christian imagery.
What I found fascinating about Voyant, is that I am approaching these volumes, only after reading their respective foreword. With the focus of a theme, I am able to find the outlines of the various poems, and can see the larger picture of the poetry in these volumes.
Then I wanted to map the relationship between the volumes to map the evolution of how the idea develops and is explored in each of the volumes. For this, I used the ‘Trends’ and ‘Document Terms’ options which clearly revealed how the words have been used through the volumes.
I enjoyed working with Voyant, I learnt a great deal about working with a corpus of texts. Through my distant reading I gained a larger understanding of the poetry in the student writing, I imagined the excitement and the passion with which they must have composed their poetry, and their courage and vulnerability to reveal their feelings to the world.