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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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)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Poem By William Blake

The artist and poet William Blake, who lived i...

The artist and poet William Blake, who lived in Hercules Road — a portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

June 28, 2012

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

The Tyger

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

The Tyger

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

For more go to:

http://awildernesswithin.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/tyger-tyger-burning-bright/

Go Obama!

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: philomythus)

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who drove up the national debt? Give Obama four more years!

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

Closing Hours Closing Hours – Poem by: Ann Lauterbach

Painting by Heather Whitley Gibson

Closing Hours Closing Hours

This trace, if it exists, is alms for delusion.
An arch uncurls from the floor
scented with the scent of a tapestry, housed here.
I recall the hour but not its passage
unless dream captures and ties it to sleep:
a fat bellhop smiles, shows me to the tower
where I can watch the departure.
But some days settle so that nothing
crosses the horizon; stare as I will, no star
needles the air. Now I am left
on the outskirts of a forest hemmed in by wheat
where plump trees hide the image, its symmetry
shot up and blown across the ground like feathers.
The unicorn, the grail, blue and red wings
of kneeling musicians, these are embroidered
elsewhere. Perseverance was crowned.
Hope and Pity prayed for success.
How fast is this camera? Can it record a trace?
There was a voyage. Four mounted horses
strain against centuries.
To each is allotted: dust kicked up, smoke, plumage.
Ann Lauterbach, “Closing Hours” from Before Recollection. Copyright © 1987 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted with the permission of the publishers.
  • Alex Katz (einflussreicheleute.wordpress.com)

Rambling in blue skies – Poem: by Heather Whitley Gibson

Rambling in blue skies.

Lilienthal_in_flight

There in was.

In my way, a large gray machine. Tenanted- to beat acquaint it’s chest.With myself.

To spilling it’s gas and clip it wings. Propellers steeped-right in the middle—

of a dutch painting.

There were to many armies of men gathering around to fix tits.

-dept-ed wings. Her it was.. Large overbearing fans sloth like. Giving window that bright oversight-the shiny fur appeal.

 Holy Sonnets, The Mother propeller and faith in the laws of Angels.

If you plan to sleep. “The American Way”. Scratch the surface of linted skies and the part terns on the ground.

After being “hazed” in even in even conditions

When clouds themselves Sevres that dream.

Who’s love of Land sconced in undergrowth parts of war engines, the crowded rain in, honey sucked dedicated to that thick sun.

You and me, pray by tongues without taste. But even when know words come, they frame a picture.

Hung by yellow dancers, tree stalks and yellow corn. Tubes of paints this dance with Kan-sky’s vibes.

When time it self sup-ones. unafraid as we as time as if impassioned in light, losing our balance,tree grow vertical.

Like leaves turn over, we squint, sane our words slight. Demand not flyswatters, warm with wind

Stretcher out  in grain of Glassy, of sand, of boxes of the past blot as we wipe away , clearing are shields and wipers.

Screaming.

Flies, swirling tackle, the worms splitting sorrow, last seen in {bracket}s mosses.

Pluck the sun Alar y and it’s nozzle to some “day” (Hot).

When litters of flies ramble like new-browns, dark lines on there tongues fluent in speech:

Ton-know A calligraphic sky IS, Does what words.

CAN’T SAY.