Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
In the previous post, I shared a list of free, online word cloud generators. In this post, I offer a couple of examples of word clouds put to use! This semester, I’m teaching a course on Early American history. Some of the recommended texts for the revolutionary period include the following:
A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774) by Thomas Jefferson
A Pretty Story (1774) by Francis Hopkinson
The Novanglus Essays (1774-1775) by John Adams
M’Fingal (1775) by John Trumbull
The American Crisis (1776-1783) by Thomas Paine
The Federalist Papers (1787-1788) by Alexander Hamilton
All of these clouds were created with Tagul (now found at https://wordart.com/). The silhouettes here were pulled from historic portraits and edited through Photoshop before uploading texts and images onto the website.
I created the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams visuals a couple of semesters ago. They were meant to be used as a “Team Adams” v. “Team Jefferson” debate . . . recalling the old 2008 Twilight debates over Edward v. Jacob campaigns on social media. Now ten years old (how did this happen?), I guess these memes are history themselves!
Students are quick to point out the similarities between the treatises of Jefferson and Adams, the prominence of “One”, “People”, “Parliament”, “King” (Adams) v. “Majesty” (Jefferson), and “Act” (in these cases appearing as both noun and verb). Similarly, the literary texts by Hopkinson, Trumbull, and “Paine” highlight timeliness and degrees: “Great”, “More,” “Now,” and “Time” and binaries like “Old” and “New”; “Friend” (Trumbull), “Family” (Hopkinson), and “Enemy”; and “Whig” and “Tory”.
The word clouds not only highlight prominent words but also quickly identity/categorize themes and styles of each writer and those shared by the group. This is the first time I’m requiring readings of multiple Hamilton essays, so we’ll see soon how students respond to these essays. If there’s time, I’d love to introduce the soundtrack of the musical Hamilton to the class. I, perhaps mistakenly, assume the class knows of the musical, but wonder how many have listened to any of the tracks.