Intoducing Culturomics: Cultural Trends @ Google Labs

A searchable database of more than 500 billion words from millions of books published over the past four centuries is now online. The tool, which is a collection of words and phases stripped of all context except the date in which they appeared, is a powerful way to study cultural change say researchers from Cultural Observatory, Harvard, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Google.  Type in a word or a short phrase, and the database produces a graph — a curve that traces how often an author used those words every year since 1800. The story on NPR offers a summary of the findings which were published in the journal, Science.

Looking at how a word or phrase is used over time could be an addicting exercise for both english and social studies teachers. It would be cool to compare things, too; whether its people, facts about grammer, or even pieces of music. The browser allows you to search different collections of books (called 'corpora').  The website says "corpora are available in English, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish, so you can examine effects in many different cultures and compare them to one another ('feminism' in English vs. 'féminisme' ) in French, for instance." Students can search and analyze results based upon their knowledge of cultural and historical trends.