Visualizing Data

This series of word clouds are a visual representation of letters written by D.R. Anthony to his family between 1857 and 1862. They span his first days in Kansas to the very end of his Civil War service. Word clouds create a picture of a text based on word frequency. They allow readers to view a large mass of text as one coherent graphic that better illustrates what the central ideas or themes of the text were. Easy to create, they can stand alone, be used for comparison, or be manipulated to highlight certain specific aspects of a text. These traits make them an excellent tool for teachers and students at any level to present or analyze text.

The first word cloud below is of the stand-alone variety. It is taken from all of D.R. Anthony’s available wartime letters. They span October, 1861 to September, 1862. It should be noted that in the creation of these word clouds, one liberty was taken with the text. Anthony used a wide variety of words to refer to black men and women, both enslaved and free. In order to obtain an accurate visual representation, all these words, plural or singular were standardized and replaced with the word “Slave.” These words include “negro,” “slave,” “contraband,” and “blacks.” Use of such a wide variety of words was typical during the 19th Century, particularly during the Civil War when words such as “contrabands” were introduced. Besides writing about slavery, Anthony wrote a great deal about general goings on in camp and on the battlefield. This presents an interesting dualism; in some respects these letters seem to be those of just another soldier, yet also a man with remarkable ideological drive and passion.

Wartime Letters

 Word cloud of 65 words from 20 letters, Oct. 1, 1861 – September 14, 1862.

Text available online courtesy State Library of Kansas and Kansas GenWeb Project

The next two word clouds are taken from letters written to his father and his sister. They span the full breadth of all the letters, and are indicative of the different relationships Anthony had with his family. His father was a businessman who cut his teeth owning and operating mills in Adams, MA, and Battenville and Center Falls, NY. Anthony frequently urged his father and other family members to move to Kansas – he felt that the frontier was the place where fortunes could be made with great ease. He once wrote his father “anything will pay in [in Leavenworth] except doing nothing.” His reports of prosperity and strong feelings about his new hometown are evident in his letters. His writings to his sister were of a different quality. She was always ambitious, as he was, and his writings to her contain far more politics – he mentions the plight of slaves far more often, and rather than discuss local Leavenworth business affairs, they corresponded about larger Kansas politics.

Letters to his father

Word cloud of 50 words from 32 letters, June 5, 1857 – October 1, 1862

Text available online courtesy State Library of Kansas and Kansas GenWeb Project

Letters to Susan

Word cloud of 50 words from 19 letters, July 13, 1857 – June 20, 1862

Text available online courtesy State Library of Kansas and Kansas GenWeb Project