Visualizing the "Advice to the Ladies of London":
"Advice to the Ladies of London"
Three related ballads in the Pepys Collection discuss the "advice" ladies ought to follow in choosing a husband and the relationship of that advice to the men between whom they are choosing.
The Digital Humanities Approach
Word frequency visualization offers a new way of reading that goes far beyond its former "at-a-glance" and concordance uses. Using word frequency visualization tools on a set of broadside ballads from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, I argue that while such critics as Pamela Allen Brown claim that popular literature offers only two choices for women, shrew or sheep, ballads in fact present a complicated spectrum of possible roles for women. The visualization techniques I use (word clouds and word trees) help me conceptualize that spectrum while at the same time introducing a tool to literary analysis.
Word clouds render word frequencies in a user-supplied text by size and word trees render both word frequency and word networks. Because my project centers on literary texts, I am most interested in the possibilities for word/tag clouds or word trees and literary analysis. Joe Lamantia, writing about what he calls the "text cloud," claims, "the growing use of text clouds hints at a (potential) deeper cultural shift in the way we go about reading and comprehension: a shift from linear modes based on reading words and sentences, to nonlinear modes based on viewing summaries of content in aggregate as a way of discovering concepts and patterns."1 The text cloud captures the non-linear elements of a text and makes them clear to the reader.
Someone once claimed that the tag cloud is "the mullet of web 2.0," and the significance of this project has a lot to do with that comparison.2 The hairstyle is one everyone loves to hate and mock; in the popular imagination it now stands for everything "Blue Collar Comedy." That is, the ridicule of the mullet is linked to classism and regionalism. When commentators fret over the tag clouds' "popularity," they are really fretting about the expansion of users' access to the technology to make tag clouds. Thus word/tag clouds are positioned in much the same way as close reading was in Post-World War II America—they have the potential to open up texts to people who may not have otherwise had access in this way to them before.
1 Joe Lamantia, “Text Clouds: A New Form of Tag Cloud?” Joe Lamantia.com, http://www.joelamantia.com/blog/archives/cat_tag_clouds.html, 15 March 2007 Accessed 19 February 2008
2 This was either Garrick Schmitt or Jeffrey Zeldman , but there is not agreement. See Ian Kennedy, “What I learned at ad tech,” everwas, 2 May 2006, http://everwas.com/2006/05/what_i_learned_at_adtech.html Accessed 26 February 2008 and Jeffrey Zeldman, “Tag clouds are the new mullets,” zeldman.com, 19 April 2005, http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0405d.shtml Accessed 26 February 2008.