There are many different ways to visualize or present data in a history project, but digital tools enable an even wider and more creative array of such visualizations than in the past. Most notably, word clouds (or graphic representation of word frequency within text) offers a powerful way to represent patterns in historical documents. There are many free tools online to help generate word clouds, but two of the most popular (especially with educators) are Wordle and Tagxedo. There is also a new promising suite of free services from DataBasic. Google also offers a fascinating text visualization tool called the Ngram Viewer that generates charts rather than clouds, depicting word usage across published and digitized texts.
Generate word clouds or data visualizations that illustrates something teachable about a historical text. Capture a screenshot of the visualization (or embed it if possible) and then include it in a short blog post which explains how you created the image and why you think it represents a “teachable” resource.
Some models and ideas
- Word clouds usually work best as comparisons. Try to brainstorm up some ideas for comparing two historical texts via word clouds. Here are some examples from the House Divided Project. If you want to see how some K-12 educators have tinkered with the idea of “teachable” word clouds, check out this link. By the way, not everybody likes word clouds. Check out this provocative blog post from a software programmer at the New York Times who hates the way some journalists overuse clouds, and try to avoid the stuff that drives him crazy.
- You can make comparisons within texts as well. For example, consider creating word clouds from different chapters in The Education of Henry Adams and see if they suggest an evolution in his thinking or reveal different impacts on his lifetime “education” from various events in his life, such as his residence in England during the Civil War, or life in Washington during the “Gilded Age.”
- Don’t forget to use screen shots to capture the image. Then crop the image to improve the presentation. And make sure to save them in a file format (like jpg or png) that can be uploaded as an image into your blog post (use the “Add Media” button). If you don’t know how to make screen shots using your computer, then just Google it.