Exploring Gender in Romantic Comedies

For our final Digital Humanities project, my group members and I thought it would be interesting to closely examine how gender is represented in popular Hollywood films. We decided to focus specifically on romantic comedies, looking at how gender portrayals differ within this genre from other popular films. We approached the project in two ways; first, we compiled screenplays from thirty romantic comedy films and thirty non-romantic comedy films, and compared the two corpuses using AntConc and Voyant, which are text analysis tools. Then, we also looked at three films individually: Love Actually, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Sleepless in Seattle. It was really exciting to see concrete results when we put the texts into the computer programs. For example, I was able to use AntConc to see if any words in the romantic comedy corpus were unique to that compilation of screenplays. Sure enough, I noticed that the terms her, lady, and girls were all unique to the romantic comedy corpus, supporting our hypothesis that mainstream films have far fewer female characters that are discussed or speak in the screenplay (as seen in the data tables below).

We had a lot of fun with this project and learned a lot in the process! If you would like to see our full analysis, check out our webpage!

Voyant and Literature Analysis

Literature analysis is one of my favorite activities in the world, so naturally I was pretty excited when I was introduced to Voyant, a software program that generates many different types of data and visualizations about a body of text(s). Of course, tools like Voyant cannot analyze a body of text for you; literature analysis requires a real person spending time with the words, reading and rereading and asking questions and thinking and rereading again. However, I really enjoyed trying out the various tools Voyant had to offer, especially the comparison tools.

In my literature classes, we often talk about the “lenses” that we use to interpret a specific text. For example, I often look at text from a feminist lens, as gender is a topic that interests me and has a large influence on many works of literature. So, I decided to use Voyant to identify places in Shakespeare’s plays that could be used to make an argument on how the topic of gender functions within these narratives.









The graphs above show a comparison of male and female terms and how often they appear in Shakespeare’s works. As anyone could have guessed, “king” and “sir” are typically much more prominent than “queen” and “lady.” However, something I found fascinating is that the only time “lady” appears in a Shakespearean text more frequently than “sir” is in Macbeth, which, upon analysis, makes sense, considering Lady Macbeth is presented as the dominant, power-hungry, courageous counterpart to her husband. This presents many interesting questions: Why did Shakespeare choose to subvert traditional gender tropes in this play? Since Lady Macbeth is written with traditionally male characteristics, is that why she is a more prominent force in the play?

Additionally, Voyant allows the user to see exactly where the phrases and terms they are looking for appear in the text, making further analysis easily accessible. For this reason, I don’t think Voyant’s visualization tools discourage from human analysis and actual reading of text. While the graphs show me interesting information, there is no way I could write a paper on gender in Shakespeare without actually reading and interpreting the works on my own, as well as reading criticisms from other humans who have studied the text. To quote N. Katherine Hayles in her book, How We Became Post Human, “When we make moves that erase the world’s multiplicity, we risk losing sight of the variegated leaves, fractal branchings, and particular bark textures that make up the forest.”

Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart as Lady and Lord Macbeth in BBC’s 2010 TV movie of Macbeth, photo courtesy The Shakespeare Blog

I don’t believe that Voyant is attempting to “erase the world’s multiplicity,” but Hayles’ forest metaphor does illustrate the importance of actual reading and human interpretation. While the graphics above show the frequency of male terms in contrast to female terms, they do not give me the context I need to make an actual argument on gender in Shakespearean works. However, it’s a good start, and the graphic might even catch someone’s attention and encourage them to explore further. Voyant is a good example of how humanities research and technology can coexist, as long as people use the tools responsibly and sparingly.





How We Became Post Human


The Shakespeare Blog

The Hows and Whys of 3D Printing

3D printing is a very new topic for me. Coming in with no background information on this new technology made my research process a little challenging, but it also gave me a unique opportunity to approach a topic with no personal opinions or biases. Overall, my conclusion was that 3D printing is really freaking cool, but it also creates new problems and questions that need to be examined before implementing the technology on an even larger scale than it already has been.


But before we get into that, I think it’s important to talk about how this even works.

3D printing is exactly what you would imagine it to be. Design something (virtually anything) on a computer with digital software, hit print, and the machine will create it for you in 3D form. Essentially, this is done through layers. Here’s some information from an article from The Economist titled “The Printed World,” which explains the process much better than I would ever be able to:

Image Courtesy of The Economist

“The layers are defined by software that takes a series of digital slices through a computer-aided design. Descriptions of the slices are then sent to the 3D printer to construct the respective layers. They are then put together in a number of ways. Powder can be spread onto a tray and then solidified in the required pattern with a squirt of a liquid binder or by sintering it with a laser or an electron beam. Some machines deposit filaments of molten plastic. However it is achieved, after each layer is complete the build tray is lowered by a fraction of a millimetre and the next layer is added.”

Pretty cool, huh? When I read this I couldn’t help but think of the transporter technology of Star Trek and other cool science fiction inventions, but this is real technology that is being applied to many fields of study in our world today. So why is it not more prevalent? Well, because there is a lot of debate over when 3D printing should be used and what moral consequences could arise from creating and recreating objects, especially objects from other cultures. Which brings us to…

Why? (or Why Not?)

3D printing is currently being used in many humanities fields. One example is the reconstruction of ancient Syrian structures that were destroyed by ISIS. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful, incredibly rewarding use for a 3D printer, allowing historians to directly interact with artifacts from the past, as well as bring healing to a suffering community that has been affected by terrorism. So, what’s the problem?

As with all actions, recreating destroyed Syrian artifacts sends a loaded message. The problem is that this message could be interpreted in a variety of ways. As Sarah Bond discusses in her article, Digitally Reconstructing The Faces Of Ancient Palmyra,

3D replica of a funerary bust at Bryggen Museum, image courtesy of @DrHanneke on Twitter

“The last two years have seen a particular focus on the loss of the monumental architecture and structures of Palmyra. This has been exemplified in the continued debate over whether leaving the Palmyrene ruins as they are allows for the memory of the destruction of ISIS to be better remembered, or whether the city should be rebuilt completely as a message of resistance.”

The people of the culture being studied should always be considered when making decisions like these. Unfortunately, I think it is very common for the bigger picture of the experiences of people living in these conditions to be overlooked, and recreating these structures to explore ancient civilizations could place a shadow over what is happening to the people currently living in Syria right now.

However, the fact that these questions come up and must be examined does not take away from the remarkable benefits 3D printing has provided. In Prototyping the Past, Jenterey Sayers writes,

“One of the most obvious appeals of remaking technologies that no longer function, no longer exist, or may have only existed as 2-D media is that remade technologies may be circulated as tangible reminders of what was forgotten, ignored, destroyed, or lost.”

This tangible quality is incredibly important. You can read about and research a part of history all you want, but 3D printing allows you to actually interact with and experience how people in other cultures/generations lived. This goes beyond mere nostalgia, this is a direct link to the past, and I think that is definitely something worth celebrating and pursuing.


Digitally Reconstructing The Faces Of Ancient Palmyra

The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage

Prototyping the Past

The Printed World