Distant reading I believe is a way of quantitatively distributing the understanding of literature by statistically analyzing huge amounts of data. Sometimes, close reading may not talk about the true scope and nature of the literature as there could be many contextual pieces that surround the work. It is important to know about the prominent voices and when the conversation shifts. All this becomes simpler in the case of distant reading as the tools try to parse the whole passage by identifying positive negative, neutral tones and voices and provides a visual illustration to readers.
One of the tools I worked on recently was similar to the Voyant tool as we touched the base of probabilistic analysis to create a situation analyzer. The aim was to determine type of situation in real-time by not being present physically. This involved identifying multiple points in the picture that tell something about what is going on. The technology that comes into picture here is Machine learning where we feed our program some pre-identified images and our program learn from it to identify similar objects when presented to it.
The image above shows some different functionalities that provide illustration of what is going on in the real-time video. Such are the tools in digital humanities that provide us with all the relevant information about the topic and it also comprehends based on the specific parts we’re looking for. It is tough to imagine hundreds of thousands of different points and pieces of data about a sculpture that archeologists are identifying with the texture in it adding up to it’s complexity. The tools like Voyant, Photoscan, Sketchup etc eases the job tremendously.
Illustration by Joon Mo Kang (Source: Stanford Literary Lab)
This image looks too confusing at the first sight but talks in depth about a literature that would take hours to go through. As it connects different characters and different scenes, it provides an overview of the play as a whole in terms of what is happening, where is it taking place, who are the characters in the scene and how they’re related. All through just a small illustration talk about the power of distant reading and it’s usefulness. Though there is so much to dive deep into in this field, I would just conclude by saying that with the emergence of newer technologies, we are able to look back into the past and infer something out of it due to Digital Humanities.