Today, Google officially announced its first Digital Humanities Research Awards. It’s giving a total of $479,000 to fund twelve projects that will use the Google Books corpus for computational research projects in the humanities. Inside Higher Ed describes one:
One winning project, called “Reframing the Victorians,” seeks to test the anecdotal yet venerated thesis that well-heeled Britons living in the middle third of the 19th century were especially optimistic — a view advanced by the scholar Walter Houghton in an influential 1957 book, The Victorian Frame of Mind. Houghton had based his thesis on an observation of the recurrence of words such as “light,” “sunlight,” and “hope.” But his sample was limited by his ability to catalog these sunny allusions. Google’s robots, which will be able to cover a much broader range of authors in much less time, will be able to explore the hypothesis more thoroughly, say Dan Cohen and Fred Gibbs, the George Mason University professors who won the grant.
Cohen and Gibbs plan to test another anecdotal thesis — that the Victorian era marked a decline in religiosity in the United Kingdom — by writing a program that tracks references to Biblical themes and passages in Victorian literature at a scale that would be impossible for even the most patient human scholars to achieve.
“Because this Google research program can provide word frequencies by year and country, we can finally and truly test these and other fundamental claims that have been at the heart of Victorian studies for generations,” the researchers wrote in their proposal.