While it’s been around for over a year, yesterday evening was the first time that I was introduced to the remarkably fun Google Ngram Viewer. I say “fun”, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s not a scholarly tool appropriate for research, but it is, as a colleague of mine (Chris Kudella) so aptly put it, a good way of confirming any suspicions that you might have in relation to historical trends in public interest. To test this, we popped in our own area of interest, “digital humanities”, alongside “humanities computing”, in an effort to get a sense of how this emerging field is being addressed. I subsequently add “electronic scholarship” and “digital scholarship” to the measurement. The results are as follows:
Firstly, one must take into consideration that Ngram currently only searches up to 2008, and there has been a significant increase in the volume of literature within this particular field since then. Consequentially, it is fair to say that this doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. What it does show however, is that there was an explosion of interest in using technology to support humanist activities in the late 1980s, and that this extended right up until turn of the century, at which point growth leveled off somewhat. From the outset, the discipline was very much called “humanities computing”, and it wasn’t until 2005 that the term “digital humanities” truly emerged. In 2008 the former of the two terms was still very predominant, but the graph suggests that this trend was shifting, and I’d very much doubt if there hasn’t by now been a full reversal of the roles.
I can’t help but wonder if either term will still be active in 50 years time, or will we simply refer to “the humanities” (the digital being applied) once more. It was also interesting to note that the term “electronic scholarship” seems to have gained little momentum, and has in fact declined in use since its modest peak in the mid-90s. “Digital scholarship”, it would seem, is used by few, if any, authors.
To further contextualise these trends, I added “ubiquitous computing”. Ubiquity is far more dominant than its humanistic progeny, and has risen sharply since the turn of the century, but this is to be expected.
For those of you who are interested, n-grams are based on probabilistic mathematics, adapted for language modelling for the prediction of items in a sequence.