“Analyzing Culture with Google Books: Is It Social Science?”
OPINION: Discovering fun facts by graphing terms found among the 5 million volumes of the Google Books project sure is amusing — but this pursuit dubbed ‘culturomics’ is not the same as being an historian.
published in MIller-McCune, Aug. 9, 2011.
Colleague Stephen Humphreys comments:
“A very interesting piece, and I do agree with its broader conclusions. In particular, I too miss the productive if unpredictable serendipity of traditional research methods. How else do you discover the questions you didn’t know you needed to ask? But culturnomics can be a good tool for testing our hypotheses and assumptions, and it may even have a certain serendipity of its own. I ran a casual culturnomics search a few months ago, checking “Arab terrorism” against “Islamic terrorism.” Quite as I remembered, no one had ever heard of “Islamic terrorism” in the 1970s, when most terrorists (apart from the Rossi Brigati, Red Army Faction, and Baader-Meinhof gang) were “Arabs.” Since the mid-1980s, of course, you can find nothing about Arab terrorists, while “Islamic terrorism” has been all the rage. Again, just as I remember it, but culturnomics is a useful check on my way of framing the topic.”