We are excited about a classroom activity (our first-ever with HT+Bookworm), involving students in an undergraduate comparative literature class at the University of Michigan taught by Christi Merrill, will take place tomorrow (Thursday Nov 19) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
HT+Bookworm is good at tracking changes in the frequency of use of words over time. (Right now, we can track only individual words (a.k.a. unigrams), although it will be extended to track bigrams and trigrams, too, very soon.
“Over time” is a key phrase here. When we do close readings of individual texts, which those of us who are interested in literary studies do all the time, we have an interpretive snapshot of the text at a fixed, synchronic point of time. But what we do not get is a sense of change that the word has undergone over time, and that is important for students in a literature class to understand, too.
So, in Christi’s class tomorrow, we will have the students use HT+Bookworm as an exploratory tool, in the service of three learning objectives:
- seeing how social change over time correlates with change in preponderance of one word-concept over another over time
- noting how occurrences of related word-concepts in multiple languages/places compare with each other over time
- observing how metaphorical associations of a word vary over time, by making the different metaphorical associations of the word easy to compare.
The astute reader will have noted that all three bullet points above have to do with comparisons : comparison between the relative prevalence of one word concept over another; comparing occurrences of word-concepts in different languages/places; and comparing the different metaphorical associations of a word. This is not surprising — not only because this is a comparative literature class, but also because when we are trying to understand something so complex as social processes and how they are reflected in patterns of lexical use, comparison is very helpful in tuning out any common noise.