The Google Ngram viewer gives users access to some of the same tools Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel use in Uncharted. The basic way the tool works is simple: you type in one or more search terms, and the viewer displays a graph of the relative frequency of those words over time. For example, I might look for the frequency of “dog” and “cat” over time:
The data set the viewer draws from is Google Books, and their are different corpuses—English books, English literature, etc. The Ngram viewer also has some advanced features that let users perform different kinds of searches using wildcards, parts of speech, etc.
In this experiential post, you should design an “experiment” with the Ngram viewer. This won’t be an experiment in the scientific sense, since there are lots of aspects of the process by which the viewer produces its visualizations that are hidden from end users. But design a search and report on the results. Take a screenshot of the graph you produce, and make an argument about what that graph tells us about the history of culture.
The readings for these two weeks use large data sets to make arguments about culture. Traditionally, humanities scholars have valued close details and careful analysis more than they have valued large-scale statistics. The readings we’ll do on “culturomics” and “distant reading,” then, have been controversial, and scholars disagree on the value of such thinking.
In this post, analyze one of the localized claims about culture made in the reading at hand (Michel and Aiden for the week of 11/2, Moretti for the week of 11/9). Offer a fair paraphrase of what the authors are claiming about culture, including some direct quotation. Then, think about the assumptions embedded in their arguments, and make an argument about how close to the truth their claims get.