Interactive Comparison & Contrast of Presidential Convention Speeches

Sep 11, 2012 by

The New York Times has published an amazing interactive online application that allows readers to explore and analyze all the words and phrases spoken during all of the big speeches at the two major party conventions that just wrapped up last week here in the United States. On the surface, the tool looks like a fancier version of Wordle, with words and phrases that had higher frequencies during speeches being placed in large bubbles, while lower frequency terms have small bubbles. That however, is just about where the comparison between Wordle and the “At the National Conventions, the Words They Used” web app ends. The New York Times allows users to click on the terms, compare how often they were said by both major parties (per 25,000 words spoken), search for your own terms, and even browse the words of phrases in context of the speeches, with quotes from everyone who said them.

It’s really a bit more complicated to talk about and describe, so I decided to make a screencast of the tool in action (which I’m labeling a “futzcast” due to the impromptu and unpolished nature of it). You can view the interactive below or click here to view it on YouTube.

I’m only able to scratch the surface of teaching ideas using a tool like this, but immediately the prospect of being able to easily compare themes or rhetorical devices in an english composition or debate course jump out at me. With the inclusion of the original quotes, putting the terms in context, students can see how orators at the conventions may have used words to help shape a message, soften a stance, or create the dissonance between “the other” candidate’s viewpoints and what the speaker wants to focus on. Being able to search for your own terms extends this tool immeasurably for the purpose of vocabulary building, personalization of the examination, and to explore what themes or elements may have been ignored by both major parties.

It’s like Wordle 2.0, on steroids, with a shot or two of adrenaline. If you’re a teacher of civics, oratory, debate, or composition, you should at least play around with it for a few minutes to see what other ideas you can come up with.

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