Alexander was born in Bloomington on February 6, 1839 and later earned his A.M. and A.B. degrees at IU, graduating in 1861. He joined the Union army in August of 1862 and served until the end of the war. Afterwards, he studied law at the University of Michigan and began his lifelong career of law and government. An in depth summary of his life can be found at the Archives Online page of his collected materials.The John D. Alexander collection contains a range of materials, ranging from his writings to his Captain’s sword. This activity is focused on the letters he wrote during the Civil War. Thirteen of his letters are stored at the archives and they have been transcribed by Carrie Schwier’s students. She has kindly shared those transcriptions with us for this activity. The transcripts are stored in this Google Drive folder as both individual letters and one document collecting them all together. These files can be read and downloaded but cannot be edited within Drive.
Text analysis is useful for finding trends in a text. One fundamental example is word frequency. What words are said most in a text usually offer a strong indication as to what the text is focusing on. With Alexander’s letters, we are expecting military words to number among the most frequent as he describes his war time life to his family. We can focus on these words instead of more common but less meaningful words like “the” thanks to text analysis software. One such tool, and the one you’ll be using today, is Voyant Tools.
Voyant is a free to use tool that analyzes text in multiple ways. There are many possible settings to use in Voyant but this lesson will focus on the default focus on word frequency. The first step is to input your text. Text can be input as files, copied into the text box, or extracted from entered URLs. Folders with multiple files inside can be uploaded at one time. Loading many files with discreet names is useful for correlating word usage to its originating document in the analysis stage.
Once you hit “Reveal,” five windows will open. The first is a word cloud, with word size determined by its occurrences. The second is a reader which shows the text you inputted. The third graphs trends of word occurrences by either segments of the pasted text or across the discrete files. The fourth offers an overall summary of the text. Finally, the fifth shows the context in which terms were used.
Each window has a few other visualizations you can switch between. You can also change the settings using the switch button that appears when you hover over above the window. When you hover over the button, it should say “define options for this tool.” One setting that may be useful is adding stopwords. Stopwords are words set to be overlooked by the system. You may find it useful to add new words based on the initial Voyant findings with the default settings.
Voyant is a great tool for messing around and trying new things! If you ever think you’ve done something horribly wrong, you can just refresh the page or even back out and reupload your text. You can check out some prior participant’s findings and add your own at this Google Doc! Feel free to add your graphs or write out your analysis of the data.
Networks help to visualize relationships and connections. Within many humanities studies, it is most often used for social networks, showing the relationships between people. Networks are made up of nodes and edges. Nodes are the individual connected elements. They are typically people, places, or things. Edges are the links between the nodes that represent how they are related to one another. For example, Alexander’s letters mentioned other soldiers who are members of units. Soldiers and units would be node types and “is a member of” would be an edge relationship.
There are tools to digitally create networks, but it can also be insightful to create a network mock-up using post-its. We’ve recreated that drafting experience in Google Jamboard. When you open the board, the first page has an example of nodes and edges. This example can also be used as a key. Feel free to add any additional node or edge types you feel necessary to represent the data! Networks made by other workshop attendees can be seen by going to the second page using the button centered in the top of the window. You can add to these networks or add a new page to build your own.
If you’ve never used Google Jamboard before, we have some instructions to help you out. The different editing options are all in the toolbar on the left. From top to bottom, they let you write with a pen, erase, select and move existing items, create sticky notes, insert images, create shapes, make text boxes, and point out information with a digital laser pointer. The example network uses the pen and sticky notes. The key was written in text boxes with pen marks in key colors added later. You can make straight lines with the pen by holding down shift before clicking. That’s all you need to know to start networking!
If you want to know more about network analysis, check out our networks resource page. It has more information about network creation software and how to convert your data into a standardized network.
Mapping is useful for analyzing spatial data. It can be used on small scales, tracking movement around cities, or at global scales, showing data around the world. With the Alexander letters, the locations are focused on the continental United States and his troop’s movements.
These letters are being mapped in Google My Maps. This is distinct from Google Maps in that it lets you drop pins on locations and draw lines and shapes. Both pins and lines can be customized to change their colors, permitting color coding. The pins can also have their display image modified for further encoding. When you add a point, you can give it a name and a brief description. Lines and shapes are useful for measurement. When you make a line between two locations, My Maps will be able to tell you the distance it represents. Shapes behave similarly and calculate the area represented.
Any added annotations are on some layer of the map. You can turn specific layers on and off using the left tool bar. You can also add a layer if you’d like to create a layer of your own. Layers can be another useful way to distinguish different elements. With the letters, all letter addresses could be on one layer while another could have all mentioned battle locations. Then a viewer could switch between the two or see both and study how they’re related to each other.
More information about mapping, including information about other mapping programs, can be found on our mapping resource page.