Google books may advance scholarly research

Historians in the News

When scholars seek to understand long-ago cultures, they tend to draw conclusions from the handful of famous writers and thinkers whose works endure today. John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle peppered their books with words like "sunlight" and "hope," so their Victorian era is often thought of as earnest and optimistic.

But how did the hundreds of lesser-known Victorian writers regard the world around them? This question and many others in fields like literature, philosophy and history may finally find an answer in the vast database of more than 12 million digital books that Google has scanned and archived.

Google, scholars say, could boost the new and emerging field of digital humanities, which over the past few years has humanities researchers increasingly joining with computer scientists to answer questions that they could hardly conceive of asking before.

At Stanford University, for example, humanities professors are linking up with computer scientists to map a "Republic of Letters," illustrating the pathways between Paris, London and other cities traveled by letters written by intellectuals like Voltaire. Richard White, a Stanford history professor, is using 19th-century railroad freight rates to build database and computer graphics tools that illustrate how people's experience of space and time was reshaped by the coming of the railroads in the West....
Read entire article at San Jose Mercury-News

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