Major American Novels

Course Description

In this class, we will be reading and considering a number of the most important or most critically lauded moments in the development of the American novel.

Assignment #2—Visualizing Text

For this assignment, we will be changing gears in how we think about novels. The first paper had you focusing on traditional themes within a work of literature, while this assignment will find a different approach to analyzing a text. We will be using a suite of tools, called Voyant Tools, to explore different approaches to making meaning and finding themes in a text.


Voyant is a suite of tools that lets you use tools more often associated with computer science, especially data mining, to explore and create interesting charts and graphs of a novel. For instance, you can create various graphs, diagrams, and charts using this tool. These tools, which let you take a more detached perspective than the previous paper, allow for an overview of a text without worrying about your own biases as a reader.

What Are People Doing With Voyant?

Here are some examples of using Voyant in a humanities context:

How To Look at a Text

You can load different elements or different texts into Voyant. As such, you can produce a myriad of different levels of analysis.

  1. Explore one novel using Voyant tools—What does this analysis of word usage tell us that we may not otherwise know?
  2. Contrast two or more chapters from a novel—What does comparing the word usage of differing chapters in a single book tell us about action or character or theme?
  3. Compare chapters or whole novels in two or more novels—What does comparing, say, action sequences or important characterization moments in two authors tell us about how meaning is made? What can we say about the differing approaches authors take to plot?

Remember, also, that you do not have to load both texts (if you are working with two texts) into the same Voyant corpus. You can produce two sets of graphs and discuss them.

Things You Will be Producing

In constructing this analysis, you will produce three things.

Help With Voyant

There is not a lot of useful documentation for Voyant, but here are two guides:

Additionally, remember to try Googling your problem. There are a lot of other people using Voyant Tools who have documented how they did things in their own projects.