Adam Crymble on Measuring Interest

28 01 2011

Adam Crymble has posted a very thoughtful piece about indexing and the extent to which historians can determine whether contemporaries were interested in a particular issue. This is a question of major important for digital humanities scholars interested in quantitative discourse analysis.

His post begins as follows:

Today, gauging the general pulse of what people are saying or talking about or reading is fairly easy. Twitter’s “Trending Topics” are one of many methods for seeing what people are interested in right now. Others include a scan of the top stories in today’s newspapers, or a comparison of today’s blog posts by keyword.

In the post, Crymble talks about the Gentleman’s Magazine, an 18th century London publication. Using the index to the magazine, he did a work frequency count to see what sorts of subjects it covered. (see image below)


John Bull's Mind

He concludes:

By applying my historical knowledge of Britain during this era, my distant reading of the Gentleman’s Magazine suggests to me the following conclusions:

Wealthy Englishmen in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century were interested in whichever country was currently causing the most trouble. They wanted to be kept informed of things that could kill them, or things that could disrupt their trade. They were interested in discussing the structure of the Anglican church, but less interested in discussing other religions, or directly engaging with the Bible. And finally, London was more important than America.