Google has opened up the data it uses in its book searches and even supplemented is with an easy to use interactive chart-maker.
This is a great boon to serious historians and a fantastic time waster for half-assed ones like me.
Above we see the use of the word detente in Google’s collection of books. There is a clear and rapid increase in instances as it was used to describe the thawing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 70s and 80s. After the collapse of the USSR there is a quick decrease.
The first thing I thought to explore with this new access was use of the word “homophile.” I have often been told that this was the old-timey word for homosexuals. I assumed that homophile had been popularly used from the turn of the century until it was replaced by homosexual and gays in the late 20th century.
Obviously, I could not have been more wrong in my assumption. The first chart shows that the word homophile did not come into use common use until midcentury and the bottom, comparative chart illustrates that homosexual has always been the more dominate word for describing those attracted to the same sex. Usage of the term “homophile” it seems is strictly tied to the Homophile Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
This graph shows the usage of the word “gays” which I have pluralized to differentiate it from the term originally used to describe cheerfulness. It doesn’t prove anything I didn’t already know but its still striking to see it taking off from the 60s and into the common lexicon.
This final graph, generated by a friend, shows relative instances of the name “Reagan” in literature. There is the expected increase during his presidency and a dip soon after during the Clinton years. Then, with America’s turn right in the 2000s, there is a massive increase in writing about the former president thus illustrating quantitatively the expanding interest (and I would argue myth around) the former president and his policies.
You can play with books and graphs too if you go here:
An academic paper has been written on the project here: