Exploring Holmes with a Word Cloud

Hey all!

Recently we’ve been exploring word clouds as a digital humanities tool to use as a helpful method of visualizing a text in a different way than we normally would. In a word cloud the frequency of words in a document directly correlates to the size of that word in the visualization. For this project I’ve used Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Adventure “The Blue Carbuncle”, as it was my favorite of the stories we’ve read in class. I used the word cloud tool Wordle to make this image, as I felt that particular tool was the most user-friendly and fun tool to use. It really is easy, I recommend anyone jump in and try it.

A word cloud for the story "The Blue Carbuncle" generated by Wordle.
A word cloud for the story “The Blue Carbuncle” generated by Wordle.

I used a custom color set for this word cloud, one that I felt was representative of the story. I suspect there is a lot more going on under the hood of these tools than we may even know about. While Wordle provides us plenty of options for customizing our image, there appear to be further variables that we can’t control. For instance, in this particular word cloud generation, most of the larger, more prominent words run through the middle of the image, but this is not always the case. Certain cloud generations have larger words on the outer edges of the image. I wonder how many other variables run underneath the user interface beyond our control and if any of those would be worth bringing up to user level.

Of course, maybe before they add new features they can work out the kinks in Java.

Until next time! -Kevin Finer

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