The concept of doing humanities research with analytical tools and databases has been around for a while. Google’s experimental feature, Ngram Viewer, addresses this concept through generating graphs of search terms showing the amount of times these terms have occurred in a corpus of books. The search is done on more than 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008 that Google has digitalized, and opens up new possibilities for researchers and users to understand the development of language, culture and society. Ngram Viewer survived Google’s recent spring cleaning campaigns and just yesterday, Google added new functions to it that allow for searches of inflections and capitalization styles.
Now let’s do a little experiment of our own and put our favorite word into the Ngram Viewer: entrepreneurship.
There are a few turning points on the graph, which very much coincide with history of the term “entrepreneurship”: though loaned from French as early as in the 1850s, it was coined around 1920s, and has gradually become a buzzword in the last several decades. The drops in the 40s and early 90s also possibly indicate the effects of major economic events: the wartime controls during WWII that converted consumer-product plants to fill military orders, and the early 1990s recessions. Besides, the use of the term is also affected by more complex social and cultural factors that merit further analysis.
See what other people have used Ngram Viewer to learn about cocaine, Aristotle, and ketchup.
Increasing data accessibility and comprehension by the masses will be an ongoing trend for the 21st century. Let’s look forward to see what other unexpected changes data analysis and visualization can bring us!