Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Textual Analysis of Prognostications

Posted by Darin Hayton on 02/07 at 12:16 PM

Following up on yesterday’s Wordle analysis of plague tracts, I thought it might be interesting to look at the word clouds produced from a few astrological prognostications. Perhaps predictably, weather words are the most common: colde, clowdes, fayre, hot, rayne, temperate, winde, wyndy. Certain terms that I expected to turn up regularly were noticeably absent. For example, in the seven prognostications I looked at, eclipse is only one time in the top 25 words. The moon is the most common planet mentioned; Mercury is absent. The only signs that makes it into the top 25 are Pisces and Sagittarius, both in the same year.

It seems like such an analysis could be really interesting if constructed well. A thorough diachronic study, picking multiple prognostications from each year over a few decades or a large, synchronic study of prognostications for a single year both might be suggestive. In any event, here are the word clouds for seven texts spanning 1555 to 1598.

The first is Leonard Digges’ A prognostication of right good effect … 1555:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1555

Planets include the moon, the sun, Mars, and Venus. Astrological terms seem frequent enough. Most words relate to weather.

The second text is John Securis, A prognostication for the yere of Christ … 1566:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1566

The moon and sun are conspicuously absent. Mars and Jupiter are there. Astrological and weather terms are likewise infrequent. I didn’t look closely at the text to figure out why it might be different. Maybe that is the benefit of this simple word count analysis: it draws attention to anomalies.

The third text is Thomas Hill, A prognostication made for the yeare … 1572:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1572

Weather dominates this prognostication. It looked to be a windy and cloudy year: wind appears in some form three times and cloudy twice. Again, planets and astrological terms are interestingly absent.

Alexander Mounslowe’s The prognostication made for the yeare … 1576 was the next text:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1576

The signs and planets return with a vengeance in this prognostication: the moon, sun, Venus, Pisces, and Sagittarius are all there. By contrast, weather words don’t appear much.

Thomas Buckminster’s A prognostication Buckminster 1591 was next:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1591

The moon is the only planet to appear, while weather words return: cold, rayne, wyndy, weather. The Roman numerals are probably an artifact of some table or tables.

Adam Foulweather is a great name for the author of a prognostication. His A wonderfull, strange and miraculous astrological prognostication for 1591, however, seems to avoid any appreciable discussion of weather:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1591

It is the only time eclipse is mentioned. There must be some interesting comparison to make between the two prognostications for 1591.

The last text is Rudolfus Grapheuis’s Praedictio astrologica. The great and wonderfull prognostication … 1598:

Wordle: Prognostication for 1598

Venus and Mars appear as does God. The other terms don’t seem all that interesting.

Finally, just to see what happens when I aggregate these texts, here is the word cloud from them all combined:

Wordle: Various prognostications from 1555 to 1598

The moon, sun, and Mars represent the planets. Combust is the only obvious astrological term. Cold, cloudy, fair, rain, weather, and wind are common enough. I perhaps should have removed some quotidian words like “also” and “many” and “have” from the word cloud. I don’t know that they help anything.

In the end, I think this type of analysis could be useful if it was designed well. Certainly in looking at these word clouds I am prompted to ask certain questions that I would not have otherwise even thought of as valid questions. Maybe that’s the payoff. Maybe it’s just a pseudo-intellectual way of avoiding work.

Tags: digital humanities, prognostication, wordle