Invisible Cities Text Analysis Exercise


For this exercise, you will be conducting a text analysis of Invisible Cities using the tool Voyant. The intention of this exercise is to teach you how to begin to incorporate textual analysis into your scholarship.

The fact that we are conducting a digital text analysis on such a slim text—Invisible Cities is only 165 pages—makes this work very different from “distant reading,” meaning the use of digital tools and methods to explore and analyze hundreds or thousands of texts, or the kind of text analysis that involves exploring the entirety of a single author’s corpus. It’s interesting and helpful to think about this kind of work in terms of magnification levels; in distant reading, you are using a telescope, in the reading of a single text using a tool like Voyant, you are using a microscope. In this way, using such a tool lends itself to particularly close reading.


1.) Structure your data.

We will be doing this work in class together using a tool called Lexos. Once you have structured it according to in-class instruction, you are welcome to restructure in any other way you would prefer. To begin, download the text from Brightspace.

By structuring Invisible Cities as “data,” you will be able to more easily pinpoint where in the text particular trends are taking place and be able to more clearly see the relationship between trends and the very particular way Calvino structured the book.

2.) Upload the text into Voyant and explore.

Once you have uploaded the text into Voyant, it is up to you to use the tool to explore the text, identify trends, interruptions, points of interests, etc. The spreadsheet we created in class is a key to help you connect the file names to the specific location in the book contained in those files.

3.) Respond to the following prompt in a 5 to 8 paragraph essay:

Discuss your methodology, e.g., What stopwords did you use? How and why did you structure the data the way you did? (Don’t just say it’s because you were directed to structure the text that way. Explain why it is structured the way it is. If you chose to deviate from the original structure, explain why.) What specific tools within Voyant did you use? What was your line of thinking in terms of how you approached the analysis?

Discuss two to three trends, patterns, or other points of interest that you discovered. How did these discoveries affect your reading of the text? How would your discoveries affect your rereading of the text?

Conclude with a reflection on how you might incorporate textual analysis in future scholarship or research. (Your response does not need to be limited to literary studies, and the research does not have to be school-related.)