By Heidi Kaufman and Matthew Hannah
For today’s review, we thought we’d turn to a fun, easy-to-use digital tool that works well for classroom projects and scholarship alike. Developed by a Canadian team led by Stéfan Sinclair (McGill University) and Geoffrey Rockwell (University of Alberta), Voyant Tools enables users to visualize and study the frequency of words used in a given text. Reformatting a text to a list of the most frequently used words provides a useful and easy method of textual analysis.
Have you ever wanted to analyze the frequency and placement of words in a large text but did not have time to methodically read? Have you ever wondered what William Wordsworth meant by “nature” in his sonnets or whether sixteenth-century women writers used the word “nature” differently from their male counterparts? Or, perhaps you are interested in understanding the context in which a philosopher like Immanuel Kant theorized nature? Questions such as these demand careful attention to the textual and contextual appearance of a word over time, and readers must spend inordinate amounts of time finding, marking, and comparing these words in a large text.