Show how text mining can contribute to historical questions and what sort of issues we can answer, now, using simple tools and big data, this might be the story I’d start with to show how much data we have, and how little things can have different meanings at big scales…

Spelling variations are not a bread-and-butter historical question, and with good reason.  There is nothing at stake in whether someone writes “Pittsburgh” or “Pittsburg.” But precisely because spelling is so arbitrary, we only change it for good reason. And so it can give insights into power, center and periphery, and transmission. One of the insights of cultural history is that the history of practices, however mundane, can be deeply rooted in the history of power and its use.

OPINION: Discovering fun facts by graphing terms found among the 5 million volumes of the Google Books project sure is amusing — but this pursuit dubbed ‘culturomics’ is not the same as being an historian.

Earlier this year, a group of scientists — mostly in mathematics and evolutionary psychology — published an article in Science titled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.” The authors’ technique, called “culturomics,” would, they said, “extend the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.” The authors employed a “corpus” of more than 5 million books — 500 billion words — that have been scanned by Google as part of the Google Books project.

Names can shape fields. In the proposal for a panel to be held at the MLA this week, Lori Emerson argued that the introduction of the term “electronic literature” by the founding of the Electronic Literature Organization in 1999, in fact founded the field by creating “a name, a concept, even a brand with which a remarkably diverse range of digital writing practices could identity: electronic literature,” as Lori explains in a blog post. Seen in this perspective, the first book on electronic literature is Loss Glazier’s Digital Poetics in 2001. This renders invisible the very rich theory and practice of electronic literature before 2001 (as

From all of us at Digital Humanities Now, happy holidays and best wishes for the new year!

We will return in January to bring you more digital humanities scholarship, conversations, news, and events.

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When data exploration produces Christmas-themed charts, that’s a sign it’s time to post again. So here’s a chart and a problem.

First, the problem. One of the things I like about the posts I did on author age and vocabulary change in the spring is that they have two nice dimensions we can watch changes happening in. This captures the fact that language as a whole doesn’t just up and change–things happen among particular groups of people, and the change that results has shape not just in time (it grows, it shrinks) but across those other dimensions as well.

I like this essay by John Jones about search algorithms, which he compares to “mechanical Turk” automatons of the 18th Century.

It’s a point that’s well-understood in some circles and completely not in others. Witness the degree to which users continue to express some preference for couching search queries to Google and Siri in the form of natural-language questions: according to Bo Pang and Ravi Kumar, that tendency seems to be steadily increasing as users become more familiar with the functioning of search engines rather than decreasing. Users sometimes relate to Google as if it were an oracle, a non-human being with its own personality and knowledge.

Fred and I got some fantastic comments on our Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing paper through the Writing History in the Digital Age open peer review. We are currently working on revising the manuscript. At this point I have worked on a range of book chapters and articles and I can say that doing this chapter has been a real pleasure. I thought the open review process went great and working with a coauthor has also been great. Both are things that don’t happen that much in the humanities. I think the work is much stronger for Fred and I having pooled our forces to put this together.