Friday, May 22, 2009

Drout Bingo

More amusement from my students. This time it wasn't given to me, just left behind in the classroom. Hint to students: if you want to keep something secret from your prof, don't leave a pile of copies in the classroom.

I can't tell if this was ever actually done (though I imagine that it was), but students constructed their own boards by choosing from a list of words:
Tolkien, Beowulf, Medieval, Anglo-Saxon, Philology, Poetry, Scribe, Drunk, Battle, Monster, Myth, Revenge, Killing, Grendel, Lord of the Rings, Thane, Warrior, Unicorn, Rainbow, Syphilis, Knight, Nun, Mead, Thor, Egil, Sheep, Killer Bjarni, Jane Austen, New Jersey, Axe, Epic, Death, Virgin Mary, Armor, Sword.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Things Professor Drout Said: Spring 2009 edition

(Apparently this is becoming a tradition. The following appeared anonymously in my mailbox).

Sheep DNA from manuscripts = CSI: Beowulf.

A librarian's goal in life is to not let people touch the materials.

'Cataloguey' -- I don't know if that is a word, but I'm going to use it.

(on theories of authorship): So theory will help you decide who's responsible for the awesomeness of Star Wars... and the crapitude of Jar Jar Binks.

I haven't mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien yet in this whole class, and that's just not acceptable.

So there was this bus full of drunken Anglo-Saxonists...

Scyld overturns the mead benches. Yes, he's fearsome because he re-arranged furniture.

I do have a life ... sometimes ... Maybe I was playing Lord of the Rings online and forgot to check my email...

Is New Jersey its own ethnic group?

(on Beowulf's lack of children)
I think the perfect phrase would be "epic fail."

Grendel couldn't pay wergild. My theory? No pockets.

(on Beowulf's sword)
It's a sword! It's pointy! Like a penis! And when it fails ... I don't really know what that means or when the other sword melts...

(on Icelandic sagas)
People don't worry too much about the existential meaning of life when at any moment someone might show up at their door with an axe.

His name means "Killer Barney" and all I can think of is the purple dinosaur.

"I love you, you love me. I slaughtered some members of my family..."

Imagine how well class would go if my name was "Killer Drout."

Where's the last severed head you had in a Jane Austen novel?

(On Egil Skallagrimsson)
He's a huge, snarling, murdering freak, and everyone wants him as their ancestor.

If I live in tenth-century Iceland, I don't want to go into Egil Skallagrimsson's bed closet for any reason whatsoever.

So I mixed up my 80's hair bands ... oh God, how horrible!

(on Gawain and his shield)
"So as I'm hacking someone's arm off and making him bleed to death, I can gaze at the Virgin Mary and it makes me feel better."

Everyone has a favorite Mayan god and Tlaloc is mine.

The first circle is the good part of Hell, with nice condos.

(on the problems with the rain in the upper circles and the rain of fire in the seventh circle)
It's a vision of Hell. I don't have to explain the meteorology!

Let's play "Name that heresy!"

Then the vikings realized "Hey! We can just go over to England and take their stuff."

Newton would boil mercury for a while, go insane, be dragged back to London and then invent physics.

Word of advice: Never build torture devices for evil tyrants. Ever.

Think of the barrators as being in a fondue pot of pitch.

Look! I made it to one minute before the end of class ... J.R.R. Tolkien!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lexomics at Kalamazoo

Do you like to count things? If so, the website our research group (me; Mark LeBlanc, prof. of computer science; Mike Kahn, prof. of statistics; and our students) is unveiling at Kalamazoo might be useful to you.

The on-line tools we have put up at help researchers examine Anglo-Saxon texts in terms of patterns of words. For example, if you would like to list all the words in The Gifts of Men in order of frequency, you can. If you'd like to see what were Wulfstan's favorite words, you can. If you want to know how many words there are in the entire Anglo-Saxon corpus, and which are most common, you can find out.

Not only can you count words in any text, but you can create "virtual manuscripts" that combine separate texts into one file for counting purposes. So if you'd like to determine the most common--or the rarest-- words in the Beowulf manuscript (not just the poem Beowulf), you now can. Want to see which words appear once and only once (or twice and only twice) in Cotton Tiberius A.iii.? Easy!

And each of the words you might countis linked to a concordance search in the Dictionary of Old English. So if you discover that meahtum appears only twice in the Beowulf manuscript, you can then click on it and, provided you have electronic access to the DOE, you can see its other appearances in Old English (yes, the texts aren't lemmatized; if you want to know why, come to our paper at Kalamazoo).

Now why would I want to count words, you ask?

First, because looking at word frequencies helps you to identify interesting words in a text. If a word appears only in the OE translation of the Rule of Chrodegang and a text by Ælfric, that's potentially useful. Our tools can thus help literary scholars zero in on words that are worth a second look and can open the way for additional literary analysis.

Also, because the counts can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets, there are many advanced statistical techniques that can be applied to them. But saying more would give away our paper at Kalamazoo, which I don't want to do.

Instead, I want to invite you to come to a roundtable, "Computing with Style," Thursday at 10:00 in Bernhard 213, our formal paper, "Lexomics for Literature" Thurs at 1:30 in the Bernhard Brown and Gold Room, and the poster session for Digital Humanities Thurs at 6:30 in Fetzer 1035. We'll have the software there for you to try and all three of us will be there to answer questions. We're looking for people who want to use the software and for additional collaborators.

All the software is open-source and available for free at the lexomics website, and it can easily be adapted to work on any electronic corpus of texts in any language.

This work is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Initiative, Grant #HD-50300-08.