Editors’ Choice: The Arithmetic of Concepts

Last year I wrote a review of Peter de Bolla’s extraordinary book, The Architecture of Concepts: the Historical Formation of Human Rights (Fordham, 2013)… Since he wrote this book, de Bolla has spear-headed the  at Cambridge, where he leads an interdisciplinary group of scholars devoted to precisely this project: developing a more sophisticated and rigorously theorized suite of quantitative methods for intellectual history. Since writing my review, I’ve had a chance play around with conceptual modeling as well, and I wrote this essay to be a companion piece to the print review. Here I describe my attempts to follow through on the computational side of the problem: I’ll provide a brief introduction to vector-based semantics, and I’ll sketch out a method of computationally-assisted close reading. My dataset is the EEBO-TCP corpus, against which I compare 18 uses of the word rights that appear in John Locke’s Two treatises of government (1690).

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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Ben Schneider based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Antonio Jimenez-Munoz, Shayda Schilleman, Rebecca Napolitano, and Joshua Catalano