In the process of writing this paper, I realized that digital tools provide a whole new avenue for historical interpretation that can and should be used in different forms of history outside of strictly “digital history.” One of my largest takeaways was the amount of times I was writing on a trend or an article I came across in my deep-dive into the Google n-gram and Time Magazine Corpus results that I thought “wow this would make a really really interesting standalone research project.” Some of those include the comparison between George Washington and Simon Bolivar which fluctuated widely in the late 20th century and what that says about ideals of freedom both in America and internationally, how presidents and figures like Abraham Lincoln become sanctified alongside the founding fathers despite living 50+ years after the American Revolution, how come we don’t care about John Adams anymore, and the creation of the phrase founding father and how that has changed since it originated in the 1920s. So, there is no limit to the amount of inspiration digital tools can provide to more traditional academic history. This process made me think about how digital tools can also be used to examine very small or specific historical eras, as they reveal so much information that it can be overwhelming to think about broad trends without something small and concrete. We talked a bit about macroanalysis in class, and I understood that to mean looking at national or international trends on a huge scale. However, something I learned from this project is that the more narrow you can make the field for macroanalysis, the easier it is to make sense of your results. Both large scale and small scale macroanalysis have their place in historical analysis, but using macroanalysis for smaller projects was not something I came into this project thinking about and I am glad I got to explore the tools that Google n-gram and the Time Magazine Corpus have to offer.
As an aside, one of the most annoying things about this process, I will say, is the fact that after every few searches on the Time Magazine Corpus they would ask for money or for me to register for an account, which was incredibly frustrating when I would try to search for multiple figures in a row. There were also so many different cool features I didn’t get to mess around with for the sake of keeping the project manageable and to create valid point of comparison for Google n-gram and the Time Magazine Corpus, which I hope to be able to play with on future projects.
Absentee Founding Fathers – Herlihy Digital History Project