Visualization of categorization: How to see the wood and the trees

Ophir Münz-Manor, Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the article, we present, theorize and contextualize an investigation of figurative language in a corpus of Hebrew liturgical poetry from late antiquity, from both a manual and a computational point of view. The study touches upon questions of distribution and patterns of usage of figures of speech as well as their literary-historical meanings. Focusing on figures of speech such as metaphors and similes, the corpus was first annotated manually with markers on papers, and a few years later it was annotated manually again, this time in a computer-assisted way, following a strictly categorized approach, using CATMA (an online literary annotation tool). The data was then transferred into ViS-À-ViS (an online visualization tool, developed by Münz-Manor and his team) that enables scholars to “see the wood” via various visualizations that single out, inter alia, repetitive patterns either at the level of the text or the annotations. The tool also enables one to visualize aggregated results concerning more than one text, allowing one to “zoom out” and see the “forest aspect” of the entire corpus or parts thereof. Interestingly, after visualizing the material in this way, it often turns out that the categories themselves need to be reassessed. In other words, the categorization and visualization in themselves create a sort of hermeneutical circle in which both parts influence one another reciprocally. Through the case study, we seek to demonstrate that, by using correct methods and tools (not only ViS-À-ViS but others also), one can ultimately use visualization of categorization as the basis for what might be called established speculation, or not-trivial generalization, which means, an interpretative act that tries to be based on clear findings, while at the same time enjoying the advantages of “over interpretation”. This approach, we argue, enables one to see the trees without losing sight of the wood, and vice versa; or “to give definition” – at least tentatively – “to the microcosms and macrocosms which describe the world around us” [Weingart 2022], be they factual or fictional.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDigital Humanities Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

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