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Literature's startling record of modern history


Asparagus

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Apr 7, 2010
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Its always been suggested that you can get a sign of the times by looking at the popular culture, so this study reveals that the author is perhaps coding the reality of his time in between the lines of his book.

this chart from the article below shows that by analysing the emotional word counts of an array of books selected from each year of the 20th century we can see that the prevalance of positive emotional words over negative words maps to yeasr when there was little war and high employment and vice versa.




this research is exploratory but i found it interesting. There could be practical applications in it from an anthropological or historical perspective.

Mining Books To Map Emotions Through A Century : Shots - Health News : NPR

Several years ago, more or less on a lark, a group of researchers from England used a computer program to analyze the emotional content of books from every year of the 20th century — close to a billion words in millions of books.
This effort began simply with lists of "emotion" words: 146 different words that connote anger; 92 words for fear; 224 for joy; 115 for sadness; 30 for disgust; and 41 words for surprise. All were from standardized word lists used in linguistic research.
The original idea was to have the computer program track the use of these words over time. The researchers wanted to see if certain words, at certain moments, became more popular.

Researchers were able to chart historical periods of positive and negative moods through literature. Values above zero indicate generally "happy" periods, and values below the zero indicate generally "sad" periods.
Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, R. Alexander Bentley/PLOS ONE

Researchers were able to chart historical periods of positive and negative moods through literature. Values above zero indicate generally "happy" periods, and values below the zero indicate generally "sad" periods.
Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, R. Alexander Bentley/PLOS ONE But Alex Bentley, an anthropologist at the University of Bristol involved in the research, says no one expected much when they set their computers to search through one hundred years of books that had been digitized by Google.
"We didn't really expect to find anything," he says. "We were just curious. We really expected the use of emotion words to be constant through time."
Instead, in the study they published in the journal PLOS ONE, the anthropologists found very distinct peaks and valleys, Bently says. "The clarity of some of the patterns was surprising to all of us, I think."
With the graphs spread out in front of him, Bentley says, the patterns are easy to see. "The '20s were the highest peak of joy-related words that we see," he says. "They really were roaring."
But then came 1941, which, of course, marked the beginning of America's entry into World War II. It doesn't take a historian to see that peaks and valleys like these roughly mirror the major economic and social events of the century.
"In 1941, sadness is at its peak," Bentley says.
i wonder what the Noughties look like?
 


Asparagus

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Interesting. Did they weight the results by popularity of the books I wonder? Were people in the 20's reading more happy books or were writers just writing them?
Yeah, i'm not sure... they used "millions of books"... i think all books are equal and straddle genres.
i think a second study with clearer hypotheses might be in order, but as a proposal justification this looks interesting.
 

Riadach

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WWI doesn't seem to feature.
 

Septic Frank

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It is interesting but doesn't it make the assumption that our natural state is happiness.
 

Asparagus

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No, its baseline is neutral I think. as anything above that is happy and below is sad
 

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