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Historical Scholarship in the Digital Age

Tool Review: TokenX and Language Analysis

The proliferation of linguistic tools for analysis has opened new avenues for historians working in the digital realm. Textual analysis is the study of newspaper articles, books, laws, oral histories, and other forms of human communication. Textual analysis digital tools better enable historians to decipher language usage, frequency, and significance in the context of discourse, rhetoric, and ideas. These robust digital tools thereby provide numerous possibilities that can inform historical research and communication strategies that can introduce new thinking into the current historiography. Brian Pytlik Zillig at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln developed TokenX as a powerful tool for analyzing text. While TokenX continues to undergo revision and further development, tools like this one can help historians integrate textual analysis in their research to analyze connections in language and across several texts.

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Framing Red Power: Newspapers and the Trail of Broken Treaties

Commentators, participants, and historians have suggested connections between the media and the political movements of the 1960s and their interactions that allowed activists to communicate their agendas. By utilizing media coverage of the Trail of Broken Treaties and ensuing occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972 by the American Indian Movement, Indian activists secured a medium in which to voice their goals. The study of the relationship between mass media and the protest movements is important, historian Julia Bond has argued, because “until historians unravel the complex links between the southern freedom struggle and the mass media, their understanding of how the Movement functioned, why it succeeded, and when and where it failed, will be incomplete.” Bond’s declaration can be extended to other movements of the 1960s and 1970s that utilized mass media to their advantage.

The American Indian Movement forcefully inserted their agenda into public discourse and used the print medium to insert their voice into public policy debates. What sort of things were activists talking to the media about? What was the media reporting? Omitting? What was AIM’s message? Did the media report the demonstrator’s goals or was the message lost in the sensationalism of the occupation? Was the occupation of the BIA a successful strategy for disseminating their agenda? Framing Red Power analyzes the ways newspapers covered the American Indian Movement by bringing together digital technologies and traditional historiographical methodologies, allowing historians to pose new questions about the interaction between media sources and political actors.

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Textual Analysis

In order for digital history to embrace and employ the great potential of the technological age, text encoding becomes necessary. Text encoding is one method of taking original textual materials from analog to digital representations, electronically searchable for scholarly research. XML is an encoding standard that assists in the creation, retrieval, and storage of electronic documents. Through text encoding and XML, researchers can gain a higher level of expertise about original texts and documents in electronic form. Such technology allows for systematic manipulation and analysis of complex historical texts, deciphering their intricacies into a more understandable form while preserving that complexity. Furthermore, Perry Willett asserts in his article “Electronic Texts: Audiences and Purposes,” “Electronic texts give humanists access to works previously difficult to find, both in terms of locating entire works, with the Internet as a distributed interconnected library, and in access to the terms and keywords within the works themselves, as a first step in analysis.” The digital tools available to historians for textual analysis have opened new realms of historical analysis. As a tool for researching, analyzing, and teaching, XML and textual analysis offers avenues of research to describe and analyze the literary and linguistic past.
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