Technology has had a huge impact on the way we, as researchers, conduct ourselves when doing research. The sheer number of tools we now have at our disposal is incredible and they allow us to quickly and easily find the information we need to complete our research projects.

The article Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books takes a look at two of the major advancements in the way we can now conduct our research; digital archives and the ngram viewer. According to the article, about twelve percent of all books ever published have now been digitized and are available in some way electronically. This provides a huge benefit for researchers of any discipline as it allows easy access to materials anywhere at anytime. Digitizing books also allows us to ensure that books may be preserved in some form or other regardless of age so that the information they contain may be preserved as well.

Ngram viewers, such as the Google Ngram Viewer, allow us to search these digitized books for specific words. By plugging specific keyword(s) into the Ngram Viewer we are quickly able to see how significant those word(s) were at a particular point in time which can help to narrow down a timeframe to study. For example, I plugged in a few keywords relating to cars: Mercedes, Benz, Ford, Toyota, gasoline and diesel to see how frequently these words were used in the English language from 1800 to 2000. I was quite surprised by my results to find that “Ford” was actually frequently used all the way back to 1800, although likely because it is also a fairly common surname. “Mercedes”, “Benz” and “gasoline” had very limited use until the turn of the twentieth century likely due to the very recent introduction of the gasoline-powered automobile at that time. The word “diesel” reaching peak popularity during the 1930s and 1940s, likely due to the introduction of the first diesel-powered car in the 1930s and the extensive use of diesel-powered Mercedes vehicles by the Nazis. Not surprisingly, “Toyota” shows up relatively little in English until the 1960s and 1970s when Toyotas began to be sold in North America. The Google Ngram Viewer is a great tool for anyone trying to find out the historical significance of different words.

Mining the Dispatch is very similar to the Google Ngram Viewer except that in this case the site focuses specifically on texts from Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Richmond, Virginia was the capital city of the Confederate states during the war and this website draws largely from the Richmond Daily Dispatch. This site is a great tool for anyone looking to study the Civil War, especially if they are looking in the Confederate side of the Civil War, as it allows you to quickly see how significant certain words were in the Confederate media during the war. It also helps to get a sense of the events of the war and Confederate war propaganda. The ngrams posted on the site also show how the war was going for the Confederates such as for war bonds which shows a dramatic spike in the use of war bonds towards the end of the war when the Confederates were running out of resources to continue fighting. The ngrams for death notices and casualties can also be used to identify major battles or lulls in the fighting.

These are just a few examples of what is out there on the web to support researchers today. We, as researchers, must get to know these tools and use them as there are many great benefits and time-savers to aid us as we delve into the past.

Advertisements