Should Historians “Mind” What’s Been Said? By mcheesaker

who's word's?

According to Google’s new n-gram tool, when researching history, words count.

Literally.

By analyzing over 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish, the n-gram tool allows users to track the usage of words from 1500AD onwards. The implications of this tool in terms of historical and cultural research are just beginning to come to light. In the article  “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books,” Jean-Baptiste Michel and his fellow researchers suggest that Google’s n-gram can be used to track the emergence of diseases, state censorship and the relative “celebrity” of a given person.

There is no doubt that the n-gram is, and will continue to be, an extremely useful tool in historical inquiry. However, there are some limitations that need to be addressed.

Firstly, the Google n-gram is limited in regards to language. Most of the collected works are written in English. Although this is helpful for me (an Anglophone student from Canada), some of the world’s most spoken languages, like Arabic and Hindi, are not even present in the database.

Furthermore, as Jean-Baptiste Michel notes, the Google n-gram tool simply measures the frequency of words within books, and books alone. Therefore, other publications like newspapers, and academic journal articles are marginalized from each search. The impact of this becomes quite clear when you compare n-gram searches on Google, and an n-gram search that browses through local newspaper clippings like the site, Mining the Dispatch. On Mining the Dispatch, users are able to see the relative frequency of fugitive slave ads that made it into the local Richmond newspaper during the Civil War. Because of its larger scope, and inability to browse through newspapers, this kind of historical deduction cannot be made through Google’s n-gram.

There is no doubt that the n-gram is, and will continue to be, an extremely useful tool in historical inquiry. However, there are some limitations that need to be addressed.

Firstly, the Google n-gram is limited in regards to language. Most of the collected works are written in English. Although this is helpful for me (an Anglophone student from Canada), some of the world’s most spoken languages, like Arabic and Hindi, are not even present in the database

I think it’s also important to note that language, although an important (and often forgotten) indication of culture is certainly not the only one. As historians know, geography, religion and class, all play a critical role in shaping the thoughts, actions and mindsets of a given people. Language is only one small piece of what makes us who we are.

Indeed, Canada, the United States, and the UK, may all be English speaking nations, but we have very different cultures. Just to prove this point, I decided to gauge the relative frequencies of three major sports: baseball, hockey, and football. From 1900-2008, the frequency of hockey was dismal compared to football and baseball. However, this was a search that took into account all English books written during the designated period. I imagine if I were to search a corpus containing only Canadian books, hockey would be mentioned far more frequently..

But more than that, words themselves are limited.

Think about Twitter. Depending on the words we choose to use in our hashtags, our statuses are more searchable. Similarly, if we tweet about a topic that’s trending, what we say is viewed by a larger audience. But what if we don’t use the right words to categorize what we’re saying? What if we type in an extra “s” or add an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong? But more pertinent than that, what if we say one thing, and mean another?

My previous example with sports provides an interesting example. In English, the word “football” can either mean soccer, or American football. In my search, this discrepancy wasn’t accounted for. Therefore, any mention of the word “football,” whether that book was actually talking about soccer or American football, was nonetheless counted. And therein lies another problem with Google’s n-gram: the tool gives us no sense of context.

And for the historian, context is king.

An old Chinese proverb claims that, “If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.”

After playing around with the Google n-gram, and uncovering its uses, I think this is extremely accurate. However, words are only one investigative tool in the proverbial historical tool-belt that can be used to understand history and culture.

F0r charts and more information visit: http://hist291.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/should-historians-mind-whats-been-said/

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Snow Tiger by YUSEF KOMUNYAKAABY

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Ghost sun half
hidden, where did you go?
There’s always a mother
of some other creature
born to fight for her young.
But crawl out of your hide,
walk upright like a man,
& you may ask if hunger is the only passion
as you again lose yourself
in a white field’s point of view.
In this glacial quiet
nothing moves except—
then a flash of eyes & nerves.
If cornered in your head by cries from a cave
in another season, you can’t forget
in this landscape a pretty horse
translates into a man holding a gun.

Source: Poetry (April 2012).


BIOGRAPHY

In his poetry, Yusef Komunyakaa weaves together the elements of his own life in short lines of vernacular to create complex images of life in his native Louisiana and the jungles of Vietnam. From his humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter, Komunyakaa has traveled far to become a scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet. In 1994, he claimed the Pulitzer Prize and the $50,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his Neon . . .

Denise Burge: Original Dirt (May 14 – September 4, 2011)

Denise Burge: Original Dirt (May 14 – September 4, 2011)

Denise Burge, Louise's Tree's, 1999

Denise Burge, Louise’s Tree‘s, 1999

Cincinnati based artist Denise Burge, approaching quilting from a painting background, views the creation of her work as its subject as well as its medium. Using the storytelling tradition learned in her community while growing up in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains, Burge uses her works as a commentary on everything from her family to the natural environment.
The Appalachian region has a history of folk artists concentrating on storytelling featuring aspects of religion, poverty, and the natural resources of the land. By using the quilt as her medium, Burge interprets what, to her, is a nostalgic and functional form of expression. Exploiting patchwork and sewing techniques as a vehicle for ecstatic pattern, Burge seeks to suggest her compositions as and analog to natural patterns of existence. Her work is constructed with a variety of materials and methods, both recycled and new, suggesting aspects of physical growth and renewal through the process. Shredding, slicing, layering, and turning forms and patterns inside-out, the artists sees her creations as a way to reenact and connect with the transformations that the earth constantly undergoes. Her nostalgia leads her to a romanticized conversation about attachment to our landscape. In the Appalachian landscape, people often see the brutality that can be exerted upon the earth, but also become viscerally connected to land and place as a natural resource and source of vitality. Burge uses her work to contemplate this contradiction and question the complexities of our relationship to our natural world.

Elmhurst Art Museum
150 Cottage Hill Ave.
Elmhurst, Illinois 60126
630.834.0202

Object Imprint artist, Denise Burge

Object Imprint artist, Denise Burge (Photo credit: a stitch in the ditch)

Quotes:Carl Sandburg quotes (American Historian, Poet and Novelist, 1878-1967)

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”

Painting by Heather Whitley Gibson 2000

YOKO ONO – “To The Light”

YOKO ONO
To The Light
19 June – 9 September 2012

TO THE LIGHT, a major exhibition of the work of celebrated artist Yoko Ono, reflects upon the enormous impact that she has made on contemporary art, exploring her influential role across a wide range of media. This exhibition, her first in a London public institution for more than a decade, includes new and existing installations, films and performances, as well as archive material relating to several key early works.

Ono’s continuing interest in the relationship between the roles of artist and viewer is evident throughout the exhibition.

A number of works in TO THE LIGHT position both artist and viewer as agents of change. For example, a series of instruction pieces written especially for the Serpentine Gallery can be completed physically or mentally by the viewer, while the large-scale installation AMAZE transforms the viewer from the observer to the observed.

Ono also presents #smilesfilm, a worldwide participatory project that encourages participation online. Conceived as a way of connecting people across the world, the project invites people to upload and send images of their smiles by hash-tagging #smilesfilm, creating a global string of smiles covering the planet.

Working as an artist, film-maker, poet, musician, writer, performance artist and peace activist for over five decades, Yoko Ono has influenced generations of artists and received numerous prestigious awards. In her prolific career, she has embraced a wide range of media, defying traditional boundaries and creating new forms of artistic expression. Born in 1933 in Tokyo, she is a pioneer of conceptual art and her work has been presented internationally in major exhibitions and performances.

TO THE LIGHT at the Serpentine Gallery is part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week UK-wide celebration featuring internationally-renowned artists from Midsummer’s Day on 21 June to the final day of the Paralympic Games on 9 September 2012. For more information on the Festival programme visit http://www.london2012.com/festival.

‘My ultimate goal in film-making is to make a film which includes a smiling face snap of every single human being in the world. Of course, I cannot go around the whole world and take the shots myself. I need cooperation…’
Yoko Ono, 1967

Alongside TO THE LIGHT, Yoko Ono presents a largescale participatory project, #smilesfilm, reflecting her pioneering vision of the power of mass participation. Visitors from all over the world can drop in to two specially-designed photo booths installed inside the Serpentine Gallery and record their smiles. These images will then be collected to make #smilesfilm, which will be exhibited in a physical form on a screen at the Serpentine Gallery and presented globally in digital form on a dedicated website, smilesfilm.com, and apps for iPhone and iPad.

Ono’s project at the Serpentine will tap into the transformative potential of the smile, which can change an individual’s view, but also radiate out into the world. Ono associates this transmission of positive energy with healing and peace.

‘People from cities and countries around the world will be able to freely upload and send their smiles by mobile phone and computer to the world and it’s people. Each time we add our smiles to #smilesfilm, we are creating our future, together. Give us your smile! I love you!’
Yoko Ono, 2012

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Tigergrove Now Joined With Flattr.Com

Flattr is the worlds first social micro-payment system

The idea had already been initiated in 2007, but the first release was in 2010 due to typical geeky laziness.

Flattr was founded to help people share money, not just content. Before Flattr, the only reasonable way to donate has been to use Paypal or other systems to send money to people. The threshold for this is quite high. People would just ignore the option to send donations if it wasn’t for a really important cause. Sending just a small sum has always been a pain in the ass. Who would ever even login to a payment system just to donate €0.01? And €10 was just too high for just one blog entry we liked…

Flattr solves this issue. When you’re registered to flattr, you pay a small monthly fee. You set the amount yourself. At the end of the month, that fee is divided between all the things you flattered. You’re always logged in to the account. That means that giving someone some flattr-love is just a button away. And you should! Clicking one more button doesn’t add to your fee, it just divides the fee between more people! Flattr tries to encourage people to share. Not only pieces of content, but also some money to support the people who created them. With love!

Flattr has no different user types. We know that everybody that create also uses other content. And vice versa. We make no difference between people.

Flattr can be used as a complement to accepting donations. Or to having advertising on your blog. Or to help getting small donations you never get for your open source software.

To Start A Flattr Account And Donate Click On: Flattr.Com