>Culturomics: Count me in


‘Denocracy’: 1800 – 2000
Between  Christmas shopping and some intense research on interest groups and welfare institutions, courtesy of The Economist, I come across the excellent Culturomics site. The idea is simple: to track and visualize mention of keywords in the digitized Google books in any time period from 1800 collect using a simple trendline. Feeding in some political science keywords priducing some interesting, but not totally unexpected – and, in truth not totally meaningful – results. “Democracy” produces a wave pattern rquite eminiscient of Huntington’s Three Waves, although suprisingly there is no big upward spike around 1989. 
Marxism, at least as a keyword, is in decline from 1980s, perhaps reflecting a cultural-intellectual climate that passes through the collapse of communism but continues to our time: plenty of anti-capitalist around these days but fewer Marxists and revolutionary socialists, I suspect. ‘Communism’ has a similar profile, although, interestinglt, here it’s all down hill after around 1968.
‘Marxism’: 1800 – 2000
You can also compare trends: running Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky against each other (citation wise) yields a few mildly interesting patterns with Vladimir Iliich and Josif Vissonarovitch closely running in parallel, but with some curious point where gaps open up. Stalin, as you might expect, does better in 1930 and 40s. Trotsky, unsurprisingly, bringing up the rear, but with a steady growth of interest from 1960s.
‘Stalin’ (blue), Lenin (red) and Trotsky (green): 1920-2000
How good a research tool is this? Certainly an interesting way of brainstroming cultural trends and – with sone tweeking –  literature reviews, although too broad brush to rely on that much. And, of course, for cultural tool it is hopeless insensitive to culture or, to be more precise, to contingent historical meanings: ‘democracy’ or ‘communism’ does not mean the same thing to different writers and may refer to fundamentally different ideas in, say, 1860 and 1960s.
Also available in Russian, German and Spanish.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: