Tools & Tactics
John A. Walsh

Tools & Tactics is a collection of digital research—visualizations, image and text analysis tools, and creative works—from The Swinburne Project. These research projects engage with and are informed by the edited and encoded text corpus of the Swinburne Project.

Thematic Networks in Swinburne's Songs of the Springtides

Swinburne's 1880 volume Songs of the Springtides is an important transitional volume for Swinburne, personally and artistically. In London, Swinburne was suffering ill health from alcoholism. He was also growing increasingly deaf. Through the intervention of his mother and friend Theodore Watts (later Watts- Dunton), Swinburne was moved from the city of London to live out his life with Watts in the more tranquil setting of Putney. Many of the few but lengthy poems of Songs of the Springtides were composed during the turbulence of his final days in London, and the volume was the first published after Swinburne’s move to Putney.

Elsewhere,1 I've discussed the volume in detail and the notion of a thematic network at play, a set of core topics, concepts, or themes that permeate the volume and unite the separate poems into a cohesive whole.

Through successive re-readings of the poems, I identified the following core set of concepts and images—familiar to readers of Swinburne—found throughout the volume: the sea or ocean; music and song; the figure of the artist/poet; the elements of earth, air, fire, and water (the last often difficult to distinguish from the many references to the sea); the heavens (sun, moon, stars); and time (seasons, months, hours, sunrise and moondawn).

I then devised an encoding strategy, using standard TEI elements and attributes, to describe the set of core themes and identify instances of those themes in the text. Details of this encoding strategy are available in the chapter cited above and in notes (pdf or quicktime) from public lectures.

In the visualizations, each poem in the volume is represented as a column of text. The volume contains four long poems and two shorter poems. Readers may select themes from the right-hand panel and instances of those themes will be highlighted in the text. By selecting multiple themes at once, one may find interesting clusters and intersections of themes. Users can zoom in (using a slider in Prototype 2 and a “magnifying lens” in prototype 1) to examine areas of interest. The visualization is useful to illustrate and facilitate a particular reading of Swinburne's Songs of the Springtides. And it may be used as an exploratory tool, as a distinct avenue into these texts and highlighted concepts.

1“‘Quivering web of living thought’: Conceptual Networks in Swinburne's Songs of the Springtides.” A.C. Swinburne and the Singing Word: New Perspectives on the Mature Work. Ed. Yisrael Levin. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010.

Literary Empires, Mapping Temporal and Spatial Settings of Victorian Poetry, Map Exhibit

Setting is a basic characteristic of literature. Novels, short stories, dramas, film, and much poetry—especially narrative poetry—typically have an identifiable setting in both time and space. Victorian poet Matthew Arnold's Empedocles on Etna, for instance, is set in Greek Sicily in the fifth century B.C. Empedocles was published in 1852. Swinburne's Tristram of Lyonesse (1882) is set in Ireland, Cornwall, and Brittany, but in an uncertain legendary medieval chronology. Victorian Hellenism and Victorian medievalism are two frequently discussed phenomena in Victorian literature. Many Victorian poets were fascinated by the literature, history, and culture of ancient and classical Greece and medieval Europe and the literary traditions inspired by those periods. Major Victorian poets, including Tennyson, the Brownings, Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Swinburne, provide a rich variety of representations of classical and medieval worlds. But what does the quantifiable literary data reveal about these phenomena? Of the total number of published works or lines of verse from any given period, or among a defined set of authors or texts, how many texts have classical, medieval, biblical, or contemporary settings? How many texts are set in other periods, such as the Renaissance, which so fascinated Robert Browning?

The data can answer these questions and provide scholars with other insights into literary history. After explicitly documenting (in XML code, a database, or other structure) the temporal and spatial settings of individual literary works, one can map and visualize the distribution of literary settings across historical periods and geographic space; compare these data to other information, such as year of publication or composition; and visualize networks of authors and works sharing common settings. The data set is a growing collection of work titles, dates, date ranges, and geographic identifiers and coordinates. Challenges include settings of imprecise, legendary, and fictional time and place.

Figure 3 is an image of a static map and timeline, visualizing a small sampling of Swinburne and Robert Browning poems, to illustrate the concept of mapping the setting. Figure 4 is an image from an interactive map and timeline (built using the Exhibit publishing framework) preliminary metadata on setting for all of Swinburne's poems.

Sample slide from “Swinburne for Children” presentation
Figure 6. Sample slide from “Swinburne for Children” presentation.

Swinburne for Children

In January 2011, I spoke about Swinburne and The Swinburne Project to my son Patrick's fourth-grade class at Childs Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana. In the talk and accompanying slides, I included a short, simple and very cursory overview of some aspects of Swinburne's life and career as a poet, aspects that might be interesting to fourth-graders, things like Swinburne's love of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend. The slides also contain links to relevant Wikipedia articles, so the young students can further explore some topics (e.g., Hugo, Sark, Italy). Older students of Swinburne may find the presentation amusing. It naturally presents a Bowdlerized Swinburne, but then Swinburne was a great fan and defender of Thomas Bowdler and once wrote: “More nauseous and foolish cant was never chattered than that which would deride the memory or depreciate the merits of Bowdler. No man ever did better service to Shakespeare than the man who made it possible to put him into the hands of intelligent and imaginative children.” (“Social Verse” 1891).
Sample screen shot from the Text Image Linking Environment (TILE)
Figure 7. Screen shot from the Text Image Linking Environment (TILE).

Text Image Linking Environment (TILE)

The Text-Image Linking Environment (TILE) is a web-based tool for creating and editing image-based electronic editions and digital archives of humanities texts. Out of the box, TILE 1.0 supports the following tools and functionality:

Image markup tool
Annotate regions of an image by drawing rectangles and ellipses, apply labels to selections, and manually create links between sections of an image and transcript lines.
Importing and exporting tools
Import TEI P5 or JSON data directly into TILE or create a script to import from various XML formats. Export your data as TEI or JSON to save your progress or use scripts to output into any XML, HTML, or text-based format. Additional import/export tools can be developed as plugins.
Semi-automated line recognizer
Perform semi-automated line recognition, which annotates images by detecting individual lines of text on an image, selecting the lines, and attaching the selections to corresponding lines in the transcription.
Plugin architecture
Extend the core functionality of TILE by creating a plugin that can manipulate TILE’s interface, filter and process data, and connect to other tools.

Swinburne Project Editor John A. Walsh is a co-PI (with Doug Reside and Dot Porter) on the TILE project, and The Swinburne Project was one of a small number of partner projects serving as models for planning, developing, and prototyping the TILE tools.

TILE is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Screen shot from LSA tools.
Figure 7. Screen shot of Latent Semantic Analysis interface.

Latent Semantic Analysis Tools

Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) is a natural language processing technique that uses singular-value decomposition (SVD) to expose similarities and dissimilarities across a corpus, such as the collection of texts in The Swinburne Project. For example, Swinburne's “The Garden of Cymodoce” is a long poem about the Sark, an small island in the English Channel, and a favorite locale for Swinburne. In a letter to Matthew Arnold, Swinburne describes the poem as a “complete [travel] ‘Handbook’ in rhyme.” However, the word “Sark” never appears in the long poem. When the poem and the larger corpus are subjected to Latent Semantic Analysis, “The Garden of Cymodoce” is grouped with a number of other poems about Sark. A keyword search for “Sark” would not produce this grouping, but the LSA tools do and thus expose a cluster of words and concepts shared among Swinburne's poems on the small channel island.

The LSA tools for The Swinburne Project are being developed in conjunction with similar tools for The Chymistry of Isaac Newton and are supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.