Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Using Big Data to Puzzle WIth History

I just read a very interesting book called Uncharterd which looks at "culturomics."  It talks about how two Harvard trained researchers worked with Google to create a search engine for all of the (so far) 5 million texts that Google has digitized (of the 130 million it promises to have completed by 2020).  If you don't have time for the book, here is a great TedX that summarizes it.

The ngram viewer lets you look up any word(s) between 1800 and 2000 in the books written in English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish and Russian.  This would be a fun item to have your students use at the end of the year when they know enough to compare items.  For example, you could look at historical terms such as Mexican, Latino and Hispanic.  We know historically that anyone south of the border used to be referred to as "Mexican," but as we have started recognizing differences we have started using other words.
Here is another example.  How has the US changed its perception of itself and when did this happen?  Well if you go to the nGram Viewer, you can enter in "The United States is" and the "The United States are."  What is fascinating is that there is a definite break after about 1868.  Considering that it takes a couple of years to write books, it is amazing how quickly after the US Civil War that people started seeing our country as one nation as opposed to before the war when literature was more of less evenly split.  One can play games like this over and over.  See what your students can come up with to study.

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