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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Networking Literature: Mapping Dialogue in Ralph Roister Doister

With the advent of digital resources such as Early English Books Online, the Internet Shakespeare Editions, Digital Renaissance Editions, and the Internet Archive, early modern texts in various forms have become more accessible than ever before. Despite this explosion in the availability of primary materials, afforded especially by the EEBO project's combination of digital facsimiles and full-text transcriptions produced under the aegis of the Text Creation Partnership at the University of Michigan, literary scholars have largely confined their use of such resources to the modes of traditional scholarship. While taking advantage of the greater availability of numerous texts, in practice this has resulted only in the application of existing methods to a wider variety of works rather than qualitative shifts in the types of research questions being considered. There are of course exceptions, with the work of Franco Moretti being a potent example of the possibilities inherent in a critical consideration of "big data."

While this project will not use or focus on such a set of information, the type of open-ended intellectual questioning present in Moretti's formulation on distant reading and world literature has influenced the type and direction of this work. I propose to develop a Gephi visualization of the dialogue present in a single act of Nicholas Udall's 16th century comedy Ralph Roister Doister. This model will render two sets of information from Act III of Roister Doister. Both are related to dialogue. The first is exchanges of dialogue between characters, when one is addressing another. The second is the occurrence of speech headings as they appear during the unfolding act. In addition to existing as a process of open-ended and hopefully unexpected inquiry, this visualization project will illuminate questions related to dialogue patterns and gender in Roister Doister.

My data, or, following Johanna Drucker, my capta, will be entered into spreadsheets. For the first visualization, each character in the play will be created as a node, with an accompanying ID number and label. Correspondences between characters (nodes) will be documented as originating with a particular node and terminating at another node. Each edge will also carry a unique ID number. Thus, Ralph Roister Doister and Matthew Merygreeke, two main characters, will be created as nodes "Ralph Roister Doister" and "Matthew Merygreeke" with the ID of "1.0" and "2.0" respectively, along with a shorter label for each such as "Roister Doister" and "Merygreeke." A line of dialogue directed from Roister Doister to Merygreeke  would be input as originating at "1.0," targeting "2.0." As dialogue is directional, they type of edge is defined as "Directed," meaning that the connection flows in a single direction. For the second visualization, each character will again be defined as a node. Instead of recording dialogue, however, this model will take as an edge the lines of dialogue appearing between speech headings. Thus a passage wherein Merygreek and then Roister Doister speaks, regardless of whether they are speaking to each other, would be defined with "2.0" as a source and "1.0" as a target. These should produce very different visualizations of patterns of spoken interaction in the play. These nodes and edges will be recorded into a spreadsheet that can then be imported into Gephi as a CSV file. The resulting graph is also exportable as a GEXF or GML file.

As my presentation argues, these two visualizations are perhaps best considered as acts of "critical deformance." Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels have argued that in "literary work . . . invasions or distortions of the documentary foundation of the artifact are rare . . . . The reluctance shows . . . that interpreters—even radical ones—do not commonly locate hermeneutic vitality in the documentary features of literary works." The "stability and integrity" of the artifact "is taken as inviolable" (115). This project is, in a very specific way, attempting to undermine that stability. By reconfiguring the text with a focus on a value which we notice but take for granted as stable, digital tools such as Gephi can help to deconstruct and recombine previously stable textual information in new ways. Such a radical reformulation contains within it, I believe, the possibility of new research questions surrounding gender relations, narrative control, and textual structures in early modern drama. This is, however, far from guaranteed. In Stephen Ramsay's memorable words, I am adopting the "Screwmeneutical Imperative" to play around not with a million books, but a single act of a mostly ignored play using a deformative digital tool. Although I do not have a set thesis in mind that I am attempting to prove using this prototype, developing and realizing it will be one part of a larger project attempting to map the "flow" of dialogue throughout the play. Given that main character Christian Custance is an unexpectedly formidable presence in the narrative, discovering a concordance in patterns of dialogue would add yet another dimension to a largely-absent analysis of gender dynamics in the play.

Author: Daniel Powell
Word Count: 823
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Discussion of "Networking Literature: Mapping Dialogue in Ralph Roister Doister"

Bringing it Together: Reflecting on Final Projects

My proposed final project for the course brought together several strands of research I had become interested in over the semester: data visualization in the humanities, early modern drama, and the need for playful "critical deformances" to invigorate humanities research methodologies. By deforming the text (a task digital tools make easier and more responsive) we can begin to undermine the assumed stability of early modern texts. In restructuring these texts, especially with radically defamiliarizing tools like the network visualization platform Gephi, researchers can provoke new research questions and imagine new conclusions.

In a way, this proposal represents a substantial leap of faith on my part. At the time of its writing, I was unsure whether or not the various components of the final project would come together in the way I hoped. I had just begun experimenting with Gephi and was still in the process of experimenting with the most effective way to move dialogue in Nicholas Udall's play into spreadsheets and then into a visual format. In the end, this required a great deal of time and, more interestingly, a substantial amount of non-computational effort on my part. In other words, my workflow eventually necessitated the manual, by-hand translation of dialogue patterns in the play into numerical information ready to import into Google Drive and Gephi.

More unusual than this leap of faith, though, was the way in which each course member pitched our proposal to the class as a whole. Rather than a written proposal, each of us presented a Pecha Kucha style (20 automated slides / 20 seconds per slide) version of the proposal. I chose to use Prezi rather than a more established slide presentation platform, as I enjoy its aesthetic a great deal more than most presentation packages. Nevertheless, the presentation required extensive preparation beforehand. Since the visual displays were automated during our presentation, a great deal of synchronization between our talking points and what was on screen behind us was absolutely vital. Successfully completing the presentation was a great confidence boost, and reassured me that I could handle whatever future presentations came my way!

Author: Daniel Powell
Word Count: 350

Posted on 9 July 2013, 11:38 am by Daniel Powell  |  Permalink

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