Whenever I think of resources like Mining the Dispatch and the Google N-Gram­ viewer, I can’t help but remember a resource from the 90s; AOL Keyword Search. The google of the early internet, many companies, organizations, and facets of popular culture had AOL Keywords. Nowadays, AOL keywords have been banished to the online netherworld along with Friendster, MySpace, and other obsolete online phenomena.

 However, the idea of emphasizing key words and phrases and analyzing their use and prevalence is a fascinating field that has only been fairly recently that we’ve been able to do in-depth textual analysis of various media and literature. The article Quantative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books talks about tools such as the N-Gram viewer and how because of tools like it, we can now study “culturomics” (the study of linguistic and cultural phenomena reflected in the English language,) in greater depth. The article goes on to discuss how culturomics extends into the boundaries of the social sciences and humanities.

To explore the N-gram Viewer, I looked at a database of the top 100 song lyrics from every year during the 1960s. With nearly 1000 songs, I found a few interesting things;

  • The words “baby”, and “love” came up a lot throughout the decade
  • The word “peace” began to appear more and more towards the end of the sixties. This is most likely due to the growing conflict in Vietnam and the fear of conscription, and the fear of a nuclear holocaust from the Cold War
  • Another prevalent theme was the civil rights movement, although there was no single word that embodied the movement.

I thought it was really interesting to see the correlation between song lyrics and social, cultural, and political events at the time. It was also really cool being able to access thousands of song lyrics at the push of a button.

Mining the Dispatch, the practical application of the N-Gram Viewer technology, looked at key words in the local newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, during Civil War Richmond. It again was interesting to see what the recurring themes were in the newspaper. The site offers yet another new and innovative way of looking at the Civil War.

Moving forward, it would be interesting to see what new information and observations we, as historians, will find when re-analyzing documents. Perhaps there’s something we overlooked in war-time news articles from Canada. Textual analysis through the N-Gram viewer will also be useful in other disciplines, such as media studies. 

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