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How can big data help us study rhetorical history?

Conference paper
Authors Jon Viklund
Lars Borin
Published in Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings, No. 123. Edited by Koenraad De Smedt. Selected Papers from the CLARIN Annual Conference 2015. October 14–16, 2015, Wroclaw, Poland
Volume 123
Pages 79-93
ISBN 978-91-7685-765-6
ISSN 1650-3686
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Swedish
Pages 79-93
Language en
Keywords CLARIN, e-humanities, language technology, e-science
Subject categories Language Technology (Computational Linguistics), Computational linguistics, Linguistics


Rhetorical history is traditionally studied through rhetorical treatises or selected rhetorical practices, for example the speeches of major orators. Although valuable sources, these do not give us the answers to all our questions. Indeed, focus on a few canonical works or the major historical key figures might even lead us to reproduce cultural self-identifications and false generalizations. However, thanks to increasing availability of relevant digitized texts, we are now at a point where it is possible to see how new research questions can be formulated – and how old research questions can be addressed from a new angle or established results verified – on the basis of exhaustive collections of data, rather than small samples, but where a methodology has not yet established itself. The aim of this paper is twofold: (1) We wish to demonstrate the usefulness of large-scale corpus studies (“text mining”) in the field of rhetorical history, and hopefully point to some interesting research problems and how they can be analyzed using “big-data” methods. (2) In doing this, we also aim to make a contribution to method development in e-science for the humanities and social sciences, and in particular in the framework of CLARIN.

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