quite some time ago I blogged about W G Burn Murdoch's from Edinburgh to Burmah chronicling a trip he made in 1908.
As well as being an enjoyable bit of Edwardian travel writing one thing that struck me was the writer's developing sense of Scottishness and also his sympathy with the Burmese people and the annexation of Upper Burma.
At the time I suggseted that one could trace a scottishness meme through his friendship with William Spiers Bruce and the Scottish Antarctic Expedition.
So today I decided to test this out.
First of all I downloaded and installed the gui version of the mallet topic modelling software and fed the texts of both his books through it. Some beautiful fridge poetry resulted but not much of a hint of Scottishness.
Edinburgh to Burmah topics:
Edinburgh to Antarctica topics:
The second list is a little odd as Burn Murdoch's Antarctica book is a non-proofread ocr version, which contains what are obviously font or word recognition errors.
So to sanity check what I was seeing I installed the ibm word cloud software and fed the books through that, not a hint of Scottishness standing out.
Now I'm not about to rubbish topic modelling as a technique, however it possibly is not a complete substitute for critical reading. In his 1908 Burmah book I certainly got a sense of W.G's developing sense of Scottishness as opposed to Britishness and that this informed his feelings about Upper Burmah. It doesn't show up in these analyses.
And that I think is important. Applied to newspaper reports or scientific publications it quite clearly can pull out important themes. What it doesn't pull out is the subjective and impressionistic ...