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Posts with tag Evolution

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When I first thought about using digital texts to track shifts in language usage over time, the largest reliable repository of e-texts was Project Gutenberg. I quickly found out, though, that they didn’t have works for years, somewhat to my surprise. (It’s remarkable how much metadata holds this sort of work back, rather than data itself). They did, though, have one kind of year information: author birth dates. You can use those to create same type of charts of word use over time that people like me, the Victorian Books project, or the Culturomists have been doing, but in a different dimension: we can see how all the authors born in a year use language rather than looking at how books published in a year use language.

Genre information is important and interesting. Using the smaller of my two book databases, I can get some pretty good genre information about some fields I’m interested in for my dissertation by using the Library of Congress classifications for the books. I’m going to start with the difference between psychology and philosophy. I’ve already got some more interesting stuff than these basic charts, but I think a constrained comparison like this should be somewhat more clear.

Cluster Charts Jan 18 2011

I’ll end my unannounced hiatus by posting several charts that show the limits of the search-term clustering I talked about last week before I respond to a couple things that caught my interest in the last week.

Because of my primitive search engine, I’ve been thinking about some of the ways we can better use search data to a) interpret historical data, and b) improve our understanding of what goes on when we search. As I was saying then, there are two things that search engines let us do that we usually don’t get:

More access to the connections between words makes it possible to separate word-use from language. This is one of the reasons that we need access to analyzed texts to do any real digital history. I’m thinking through ways to use patterns of correlations across books as a way to start thinking about how connections between words and concepts change over time, just as word count data can tell us something (fuzzy, but something) about the general prominence of a term. This post is about how the search algorithm I’ve been working with can help improve this sort of search. I’ll get back to evolution (which I talked about in my post introducing these correlation charts) in a day or two, but let me start with an even more basic question that illustrates some of the possibilities and limitations of this analysis: What was the Civil War fought about?

Call numbers Dec 27 2010

I finally got some call numbers. Not for everything, but for a better portion than I thought I would: about 7,600 records, or c. 30% of my books.

The HathiTrust Bibliographic API is great. What a resource. There are a few odd tricks I had to put in to account for their integrating various catalogs together (Michigan call numbers are filed under MARC 050 (Library of Congress catalog), while California ones are filed under MARC 090 (local catalog), for instance, although they both seem to be basically an LCC scheme). But the openness is fantastic–you just plug in OCLC or LCCN identifiers into a url string to get an xml record. It’s possible to get a lot of OCLCs, in particular, by scraping Internet Archive pages. I haven’t yet found a good way to go the opposite direction, though: from a large number of specially chosen Hathi catalogue items to IA books.

Lexical analysis widens the hermeneutic circle. The statistics need to be kept close to the text to keep any work sufficiently under the researcher’s control. I’ve noticed that when I ask the computer to do too much work for me in identifying patterns, outliers, and so on, it frequently responds with mistakes in the data set, not with real historical data. So as I start to harness this new database, one of the big questions is how to integrate what the researcher already knows into the patterns he or she is analyzing.

What can we do with this information we’ve gathered about unexpected occurrences? The most obvious thing is simply to look at what words appear most often with other ones. We can do this for any ism given the data I’ve gathered. Hank asked earlier in the comments about the difference between “Darwinism” and evolutionism, so:

Isms and ists Nov 15 2010

Hank asked for a couple of charts in the comments, so I thought I’d oblige. Since I’m starting to feel they’re better at tracking the permeation of concepts, we’ll use appearances per 1000 books as the y axis:

Back to Darwin Nov 13 2010

Henry asks in the comments whether the decline in evolutionary thought in the 1890s is the “‘Eclipse of Darwinism,’ rise or prominence of neo-Lamarckians and saltationism and kooky discussions of hereditary mechanisms?” Let’s take a look, with our new and improved data (and better charts, too, compared to earlier in the week–any suggestions on design?). First,three words very closely tied to the theory of natural selection.

An anonymous correspondent says:

You mention in the post about evolution & efficiency that “Offhand, the evolution curve looks more the ones I see for technologies, while the efficiency curve resembles news events.”

That’s a very interesting observation, and possibly a very important one if it’s original to you, and can be substantiated. Do you have an example of a tech vs news event graph? Something like lightbulbs or batteris vs the Spanish American war might provide a good test case.

Also, do you think there might be changes in how these graphs play out over a century? That is, do news events remain separate from tech stuff? Tech changes these days are often news events themselves, and distributed similarly across media.

I think another way to put the tech vs news event could be in terms of the kind of event it is: structural change vs superficial, mid-range event vs short-term.

Anyhow, a very interesting idea, of using the visual pattern to recognize and characterize a change. While I think your emphasis on the teaching angle (rather than research) is spot on, this could be one application of these techniques where it’d be more useful in research.