Thursday, March 24, 2011


I never heard of culturomics before I read the article "Loneliness and Freedom" by Anthony Grafton in the American Association's Perspectives magazine. For those who don't know, Grafton is the president of the AHA. Two Harvard scientists, Erez Lieberman-Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel downloaded the texts of over 5 million digitized books from Google Books, tagged dates to the text, so they can search their data with high speed, advanced search engines. The term culturnomics means the study of culture with a statistical metric to measure. I see an amazing potential using this material because it can add some scientific validity through its use of statistics. Now, 5 million books is a lot, but there is no guarantee that this is spread evenly across time periods and subject. There are probably gaps. I don't think there are too many comic books or pulp fiction books on google yet. Thus if one wanted to study popular literature of the 1950s, there are two good sources unavailable. For the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, however, the sample might be better. There is already a ton of stuff on the period because it is already in the public domain. Now we just have to think of how to use it.

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