A Martyr Is a Witness

martyr-corpus-word-cloud

Sinclair, Stéfan and Geoffrey Rockwell. “Voyant Tools: Reveal Your Texts.” Voyant. 31 Aug. 2015 <http://voyant-tools.org/>

In my Introduction to Digital Humanities course, my students are conducting very basic text analysis using Voyant and AntConc.  One of the datasets we are using is a set of martyr texts taken from the now public domain Ante-Nicene Fathers series (available at newadvent.org).

I’m a little bit of a skeptic regarding wordclouds; I generally regard them as useful insofar as they are aesthetically pleasing and in that they may spark a deeper interest in a text or set of texts.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see the results of the wordcloud in Voyant.  A martyr is a witness, quite literally in Greek.  And lo and behold: the most prominent word (after accounting for a standard English stop word list) is “said.”  Speaking.  Witnessing?

We also put the martyr texts through AntConc, and we tested the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas against the rest of the dataset to check for key words: just which words were distinctive to Perpetua and Felicitas?  Once again I was pleasantly surprised.

AntConc: Keywords in Perpetua and Felicitas measured against other martyr texts in English translation

AntConc: Keywords in Perpetua and Felicitas measured against other martyr texts in English translation

Note the prominence of “I” and “my” and “me.”  The “keyness” of the first person pronouns reflect the presence of a section of the martyr text often called Perpetua’s “prison diary”; according to tradition, the diary was written by Perpetua herself.  The keyness of “she” and “her” of course reflect the text’s women protagonists.

 

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