Encoding the Dorrs Letter certainly gave me an impression on what coders go through to put content into a language that the computer will understand. The proper nouns were difficult to identify in code. For example, the Constitution, a formal identity but also an item of reference to that of a specific place or nation. I listed several under type as what I classified them as—item, place, group, etc.; however, someone else coding this same letter might identify them differently. I wonder how that would play into classifying words or coming to any meaningful word analysis.
After encoding and in reading this week’s assignments though, my understanding of what text mining and encoding can do became more evident. I realized the possibilities that it might have in addressing volumes of text. The idea of texts being addressable was defining in that it exposed the concept of language being examined, analyzed for human purposes, and even manipulated into other forms of understanding, such as graphs, maps, calculations. Natalie Houston stated that “readers are always already analyzing text.” This was particularly helpful in understanding that we are always interpreting language and that somehow, after text has entered the computer world, the computer can essentially do some of our work for us.
Jockers’ examples were convincing for me, especially his note on the National Security Agency (NSA) and how they used text analysis in the Cold War to interpret messages. Or even his example of the biologists who might be able to compare different patterns in DNA structure/language to assume which cells or “signals” were available. And although each example here is not of literary consequence, they were helpful in my humanity understanding of textual analysis. The idea that the human mind or memory can only accommodate so much knowledge and work with minimal amounts of information is huge in recognizing the need to get assistance through technology to better understand the language around us. Also helpful was Jockers’ comparison of micro to macroanalysis. I can see the benefits in standing outside the circle, so to say, and looking at information from a distance. He defined macroanalysis as allowing for “zooming in and zooming out.” This is a fabulous way of substantiating Moretti’s claim of the benefit in distant reading.
What it all comes to is what do we foresee as being especially useful in what we are trying to look into or explore? The scales of reading and analyzing all sorts of language are discipline specific. Encoding the Dorrs letter was a very detail oriented exercise into how computers incorporate knowledge and how they work with that knowledge that we enter into the systems. It was especially helpful in seeing how the computer identifies certain words with labels and then how miraculously they are able to retrieve certain groups of words for us in return. There was another example that was mentioned about retrieving instances of Biblical references in a group of digital libraries and this for me seemed to be a very strong example of how a literary scholar could best use text analysis. We can certainly appreciate the tasks of researching through thousands of words that a computer might could do for us instantaneously.