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Analyzing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” Through Voyant Tools

For the past year, a good portion of people living in the U.S. have been obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the award-winning musical about its titular figure, Alexander Hamilton. Lauded for both its musical and lyrical brilliance as well as its intentionally diverse cast, Hamilton uses hip hop, rap, and other non-traditional musical styles to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton’s short but dramatic life, creating an intriguing narrative that has resonated with millions.

I decided to run an analysis on the lyrics from the first act of the musical. Act One consists of 23 songs and covers Hamilton’s life from birth & hardship in the Caribbean in the first song to his arrival in New York & leadership roles during the War for Independence. As a fan of the musical, I know the plot and themes well, but I wondered if Voyant Tools would reveal otherwise unnoticed patterns in the language Miranda uses to convey the story. I knew that the musical utilizes repetition multiple times, and wanted to know if the words that were used most frequently correlated with one of the themes that the narrative continues to circle back toward throughout the play.

screenshot of the Voyant Tools home page

Voyant Tools home page

My first step was to copy and paste the lyrics into the Voyant Tools text box. The lyrics, which I found on Genius, included the character names for each part, so I had to remove those in TextEdit before pasting into Voyant Tools.

screenshot of Voyant Tools with Cirrus, Bubbles, Trends, Phrases, and Bubblelines tools

Screenshot of Voyant Tools with Cirrus, Bubbles, Trends, Phrases, and Bubblelines tools

As it turns out, the most frequent words were “i’m” (135), “da” (90), “hey” (60), “wait” (59), and “shot” (56). I adjusted the stopwords for “i’m,” “hey,” “like,” and “you’re” because they were words used frequently but with less of an impact on the actual storyline. I also took out “da” and “dat” as they were onomatopoeic scatting during the King George songs, which would’ve skewed the data towards the two songs rather than getting an overall picture.

word cloud with

Cirrus

I looked at the Cirrus tool, which generated a word cloud by analyzing the frequency of words used. Because “wait” was the largest and most central word in the cloud, it was immediately clear that it was the most frequent, closely followed by the word “shot.” This was a helpful visualization of what I already knew, as someone who was familiar with the Hamilton album. The word “wait” was incorporated into songs like “Wait For It,” when the character of Aaron Burr sings about biding his time to make the most informed decision towards success in the political arena, but is also a constant refrain throughout the musical, at times framed as a cautionary device in opposition to the Hamilton character’s tendency to rush headfirst into conflicts. Other large, central words were “shot,” “time,” and “look,” words that fit into the show’s theme of not “throw[ing] away [their] shot,” “running out of time,” and “look[ing] around” and being grateful for what they have. What surprised me was that the word “Hamilton” was less frequent than I thought it would be, considering the musical’s central character, and that there were other words like “work” that were large as well but only featured prominently in one song.

graph plotting the trend in frequency of words in a graph

Trends [click the graph to see a larger version and to isolate words using the tool]

The Trends tool was helpful in visualizing when and where certain words were used most in the overall timing of the first act, and I was able to see where the song “My Shot” fell in relation to “Wait For It” with the two tallest arcs on the graph (blue for “shot” on the left, green for “wait” on the right). The line for “look” (red) was interesting because it seems to have the most consistency in frequency through the first act, cropping up at the 3rd, 5th, and 8th sections. Though helpful as a visualization tool, I wish there was a way to analyze the song lyrics by inputting the song times into the x-axis to see where in the emotional arc of the plot these words were being used.

Bubbles visualization of words

Bubbles [click the image to see Bubbles in action! (epilepsy warning: flashing animations & whining beeps)]

The Bubbles tool was also great as an animated visualization of the frequency of words, and it was amazing to see and hear the tool work as it went through the corpus of lyrics. It showed that many of the words were used again and again throughout the first act and that the writer cycled back to certain words frequently.

Some of the other tools I tried were the Bubblelines tool and the Phrases tool. It seemed that with the body of words I input into site, Trends, Bubbles, and Bubblelines all served the same purpose in different ways. Each tool showed the frequency of words used over time, but with varying methods of visualization. These can all be useful for that purpose, but looking at all three did not yield very diverse results. Additionally, my question at the beginning, wondering if Voyant Tools would show me something unseen in the text, was answered with a resounding “no,” most likely because the lyrics from Hamilton are less complex than I previously thought. In that vein, I probably should have used a different text to test this site, one that would have yielded more empiric data with which to work. As it stood, playing around with Voyant Tools allowed me to get a clearer picture of trends I had already suspected from my intimate familiarity with the musical’s lyrics, plot devices, and themes.

Bubblelines graph separating word frequency throughout the first Act

Bubblelines [click the graph to use the tool, click “Separate Lines for Terms” for a clearer view]

Story Circle: Chapter 16 -“Commercialization and Digital Storytelling in China”

Cyborg in the Badlands

Story Circle: Digital Storytelling Around the World(2009), is a collection of essays “devoted to a comprehensive international study of the digital storytelling movement.” For this assignment, I chose to read Chapter 16: “Commercialization and Digital Storytelling in China,” by Wu Qiongli. The paper begins with a background and explanation of digital storytelling (DST), providing a summary of how it is distinct, mainly in its story-oriented, collaborative, direct nature; the use of simple, accessible technological tools and found materials; and a multimedia perspective. The author’s interest lies in the ways DST can and has impacted commercial practices in China.

Wu explains that there is a previously untapped group of consumers which may be the key to both spreading DST more widely internationally and boost revenue for commercial companies. In the age of the internet, there are both consumers and creators, and these groups have increasingly overlapped as technology has advanced. This intersection…

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Documentary Feature as Cultural Document

Cyborg in the Badlands

John H. Weakland writes in his essay for Principles of Visual Anthropology, “Feature Films as Cultural Documents,” that feature films can be used as cultural documents in anthropological studies if analysis is carried out through “direct, comprehensive, unbiased observation of the raw data, and adherence to a few basic orienting principles in making and reflecting on such observation” (55). While his arguments are particular to feature films, which generally depict fictional stories, I believe that his point can be applied to feature documentaries as well. The documentary form has expanded over the years to include varying forms; it is no longer only a medium for observation or anthropological study of a group of people. Documentaries of that form or documentaries that are framed around a political message continue to be made and thrive, but the genre has evolved to include personal ethnographies/autoethnographies.

I heard about the movie Twinsters (2015) a…

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Against Essays, For Accessibility

Cyborg in the Badlands

In “Part V: Teaching the Digital Humanities” of Debates in the Digital Humanities, Mark L. Sample writes about alternative forms of assessing students in the classroom. Perhaps ironically, his essay called “What’s Wrong With Writing Essays” deems the essay an obsolete form that does not function well in the capacity for which it has been widely accepted as a method: to train scholars in critical thinking. While I do think there is value in the essay as an avenue of assessment—there is something to be said for developing analytical skills through structured reasoning and the process of research—I also agree with Sample when he says that encouraging students to write more publicly (e.g. in the form of blogs) and/or to create more visual, auditory, or physical forms of manifesting their ideas can be equally as fulfilling, or even more insightful.

piratelog_med
Sample’s student Sid Meier’s “Pirates Mapped in 3D”

In fact…

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Shedding Skin: The Story of a Girl on Fire – a digital storytelling project


—moLt ShEd

Most mornings, I wake
and imagine myself lizard—
nails running over rust-gray
puckerings, peeling centuries
blood into dust
when the old skin wears too ancient

I never know if I’ll emerge—
sloughed-off history
showing soft new smooth,
breathing fresh

or when my mask
will slip—reveal monster
underneath:
        past deeds etched deep
        within each canyon crinkle

If I live every day
as lizard—hide human
in the bumps
of my scars

I won’t ever
have to question
whether love could touch
ripped-stitch lips
on desert face


when my skin begins to peel

when my skin begins to peel
do not tell me what will heal it

allow me the pleasure of
hunting for the tiny white
flags already raised and waiting

for the nails of my forefinger and thumb
to close gently—strong, pull slowly
at transparent membrane
of newly dead cells

let me skin myself into blank canvas,
shed the odors of last week
into curling rubber—burn
old identities for new

(I may go too far and start to bleed)

let me feel the air as it hits,
the sting of wet meeting dry,
wound as familiar as rain

the pain will come later

for now, let me savor
in this little bit of control
my hands can inflict
on my body—

defunct tissue I can purge
off the surfaces of my skin


B(ondage) D(omination) S(kin) M(usings)

my skin is a kaleidoscope condition
it is red & yellow : brown & white
all of these : some & none

it burns, roasting from inside out
as if I dug my fingers in my hairline
and pulled

then stuck my face—
flipped & pasting backwards
on skull muscles raw from the sun

my skin is a kaleidoscope condition
it never listens to me
always attacking perceived threats
not realizing my body from foe

perhaps it predisposes me
to crave certain control in the bedroom
a surrendering of myself
to a person outside this body

perhaps it’s a relief
to find a pain not manifested
from veins running too hot
creating each new red-itch-flare
in my existence living in skin

Claremont Colleges Lavender Graduation Welcome Speech (04/29/16)

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the Lavender Graduation of the Claremont Colleges, Class of 2016.

My name is Rebecca Lee and I am so honored to be here to introduce this ceremony. Lavender Graduation is our annual celebration of you, this year’s graduating LGBTQIA+ students at the 7Cs. It is also the culmination of the Queer Resource Center’s programs this year, which started in September with our Open House and Bisexual Awareness Week, and continued this semester into Gaypril. Last Saturday was the workshop and reading by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a beautiful and power experience that I’m so thankful to have been a part of. I’ve only been at the Claremont Colleges for a year, but I’ve already witnessed just how wonderful the queer community here can be.

Last year, I was where you all are sitting now, ready to graduate, excited and nervous for what was to come. I had my people in undergrad, and I was scared that I would somehow lose that community by graduating and moving away. (That did not happen, by the way…) Through working at the QRC, I’ve been able to meet even more amazing people who I’ve come to love. I hope your experiences have been as rich with support, and I hope you have been able to find your people in your four years here.

So welcome to this space of celebration and love for all that we are and all that we can be. Graduation can be tough for so many reasons, but it is also a time of joy, a way to honor just how far you’ve come in the past four years (or two, or three, or more). These last few weeks are sacred. You are saying goodbye to four years of hard work, four years of growth, four years as part of whatever capacity of community has enveloped you at the Claremont Colleges. It’s scary, stepping into an unknown future, but know that you have been developing the skills to succeed since even before you arrived on campus, and you have the tools to get through whatever life throws at you.

For now, I hope you will take this time to reflect. Process your time here and spend these last weeks with your friends and your community. Appreciate the good that you’ve been able to find here, and be ready to let go when you cross that final stage at Commencement. Trust that the people you love will have your back even after graduation. Your community will always be there when you need it.

Now please join me in welcoming Al Forbes, acting director of the Queer Resource Center, to deliver the Lavender Graduation Invocation.

Digital Humanities & Online Culture

Cyborg in the Badlands

For the first week, we read from the first and second sections (“Defining” and “Theorizing the Digital Humanities,” respectively) of Debates in the Digital Humanities, a collection of essays discussing the field of digital humanities. Having had no previous experience with the field, I was excited to learn that the digital humanities are a methodological field that utilizes technology to enhance and further research in the humanities. I was intrigued by the conclusion of the first piece in the book, by Matthew Kirschenbaum.

“Whatever else it might be, then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks of people…

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