NGram Viewer: Historical Figures – WC

Google NGram Viewer is an online resource provided by Google that allows users to sort through its Google Books database and run an NGram analysis. On a more technical level, an n-gram is a sequence of n items from a given sequence of text or speech. The items can be syllables, letters, words or base pairs according to the application. For this assignment, however, we are only concerned with comma separated words. For a simple historical test run-through of the NGram Viewer, I decided to plug in the following words (well, names actually): Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, George Washington, and Martin Luther King. By plugging in these names into the Google NGram Viewer, with a smoothing setting of 3 (the standard for running NGram), one can view the yearly count of n-grams found in sources printed between 1900 and 2008, and see how popular the figures were throughout 20th-century literature.

The results in NGram Image 1 & 2 show that over the years George Washington has remained quite a popular man to write and read about throughout the 20th century. Judging from the NGram images provided, Washington on average has the highest scores and even scores the highest at the end date of 2008. Interestingly, from a comparison standpoint, the height of Washington’s 20th-century popularity is the year 1942 (0.00051), a similar trend among the group (as noted in NGram Image 3). Results for Abraham Lincoln also spiked in 1942, but perhaps more interestingly, they reached the highest heights during earlier American troubles, such as the end of World War I in 1918 (0.00043) and the onset of the Great Depression in 1927 (0.00044) .  In contrast, Martin Luther King, whose results have the latest start of the group, rises in popularity throughout the latter half of the 20th century, and spiked to a respectable score in the year 2000 (0.00026). As for the rest of the bunch, Einstein is arguably the least popular with a high score of 0.000094, which is understandable considering his life work is scientific based and perhaps doesn’t make for as good of a read as the rest of the group. Adolf Hitler on the other hand, enjoyed a high score of 0.000288 in 1942 (as shown in image 3), but then plunged in the decade afterwards into a steady rate comparable with Einstein (the pair pulling an almost exact same score in 2005, as shown in Image 4). As the results for this specific assignment show, the NGram Viewer is a helpful online tool that almost magically sifts through hundreds of thousands of results and displays how certain connections can be made between historical figures and their popularity through textbooks and literature.

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