Comparing Tools

Although I admittedly have a preference for Palladio, I will not let my bias paint Voyant and CartoDB as terrible pieces of software. In fact, I think of these tools have their own strengths, are good in their own ways–and I’m not just saying that to avoid making a hard decision. Although all three are meant to highlight information not easily seen or understand within metadata or online archives, they all do completely different things. Voyant analyzes a body of text. It can compare one body of text to the entire corpus, but one has to draw his/her own conclusions from the graphs. I am a sucker for the n-gram search, as I think of it as an academic version of “Google Autofill,” but I digress. Voyant is good for words, words, words. CartoDB, just as its name suggests, is good for maps. If there are a lot of locations in the metadata, it would be a good idea to utilize CartoDB or some other mapping software. CartoDB shows you where things/people are or were. Therefore, it lends itself well using pictures, which Voyant clearly does not. However, just as without words Voyant is useless, CartoDB is useless without location. I enjoy CartoDB, particularly its animation map, but it is only useful in certain contexts. So I’m going to sound like a real estate agent and say CartoDB is all about location, location, location. Finally, my favorite child, Palladio–what more can I say about this? I love finding hidden relationships between sets, even more so when the sets don’t involve comparing real and rational numbers. Palladio solved my biggest pet peeve with CartoDB, which is that CartoDB–unless you put in extra layers and such–doesn’t show how one set relates to another. I really wanted to see which slaves came to move to Alabama from outside the state, but CartoDB couldn’t show me that: it could only show me dots–differently colored dots, but still. Palladio showed me the links, and it also made the nodes different sizes so I could so if there was a big influx of former slaves to a certain Alabama city. I could continue in my cheesy repetition and say that Palladio is all about relationships, (relationships, relationships!) but I see it more as a bridge between what Voyant specializes in and what CartoDB specializes in. This is apparent in the Mapping the Republic of Letters project: it bridges words and location, showing where letters were written and what those letters were about. Bringing all of those things together really makes my heart melt.

However, these software aren’t meant to compete: they’re better at complementing one another. Take biographies about fallen soldiers buried at Normandy American Cemetery (this is somewhat of a recurring motif throughout this blog): I could post all the biographies online and use Voyant to analyze which phrases appear the most. If all these soldiers were buried at the Colleville-sur-Mer, we could guess that words like “France” would appear often. However, Voyant could reveal that. say, a lot of them played baseball, based on the amount of times “baseball” appears in all the reports. Voyant also makes it clear which biographies contain the most information, as it gives the simple word count. Then we could see which biographies could have more gaps than others.

We could use CartoDB in this project for several things. If we want to focus on where all the soldiers came from, we just create points on a dot map, each point representing where each soldier was born. If we have the information about where each soldier died, we could map where they all died in France. It provides something more visual, which Voyant, even with the frequency charts, isn’t great at showing.

Lastly, we could use Palladio to bridge together some of the missing information. We could see lines connecting each soldier from where they were born to where they died. We could graph the relationship between what branch of the military they were a part of and where they died–perhaps indicating the different missions that airmen and soldiers had. We could even see if any of the soldiers could’ve crossed paths, based on the places mentioned in the biographies. Suddenly, new relationships are revealed through networking.

In short, a project can use all three of these tools, all without one overpowering the other. They each have a specialization, so why not use all of them?

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