18c 19c visualization

The history of an association, part two.

Here’s another attempt to animate the history of a cluster of associated words — this time as a force-directed graph that folds and unfolds itself as the window of time moves forward, and changing strengths of association create different tensions in the graph.

I had a lot of fun making this clip, but I don’t want to make exaggerated claims for it. These images might not mean very much to me if I hadn’t also read some of the books on which they’re based. The visualization only took a day to build, though, and I think it might turn out to be a useful brainstorming tool. In this instance the clip got me thinking about the different ways time is imagined in the “terror gothic” and in the “horror gothic.”

Association between words is measured here using a vector space model and a collection of more than five hundred works of British fiction. I realize it may seem strange that associations can form and disappear while an eighty-year search window moves forward only sixty years — at the end of this clip the cluster is disappearing while the window still overlaps with the period where the cluster started to emerge. It’s worth recalling that the model isn’t counting words, but measuring the association between them. An early-eighteenth-century work that didn’t use sentimental language at all would do nothing to dilute the association between sentimental terms. But a group of nineteenth-century works that used the same language differently could rapidly obscure earlier patterns.

In short, I suspect that the language of temporal immediacy (“moment,” “suddenly,” “immediately,” and so on) is strongly associated with feeling in the 18c in part because gothic novels, and novels of sensibility, just get to it first. In the nineteenth century other kinds of fiction may take up the same temporal language, diluting its specific connection to tremulous feeling. I can’t prove it yet, but the clues I’m seeing do point in that general direction.

By tedunderwood

Ted Underwood is Professor of Information Sciences and English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter he is @Ted_Underwood.

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