Friday, December 17, 2010

Cultureomics--just the data, please.

A link highlighted at Marginal Revolution led me to an interesting article on data mining and google books.  Culturomics:  Hacking the Library of Babel, by Ronald Bailey, on the new analysis tool launched by Google to enable data mining of their vast digital books archive.  This is certainly a holy grail for social scientists, historians, and other humanists who pursue studies broadly termed "digital humanities."  My initial plan as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University was to pursue a degree and career as a quantitative historian.  I knew then that it was only a matter of time before the records of mankind would become digital, searchable, sortable fuel for analysis.  When this news broke on December 16, I ignored the articles.  Nothing truly new here, move along.  But Bailey's headline caught my attention for the reference to the Library of Babel.

The Library of Babel is a truly inspired short story written by Jose Louis Borges, the great Argentinian librarian and author.  David R. Godine published a lovely edition of The Library Of Babel in 2000.  Godine is a fabulous independent publisher specializing in letterpress printing, first class design and has enviable good taste as a publisher.  I find myself acquiring Godine books as often as possible. 

No matter what transpires with the future of digital books and quantitative analysis, there will always be room for a fine edition of a great book.  Yes, Google is hard at work realizing Borges vision of the ultimate library of all written works.  I expect that Google will experience the same joy followed by depression of Borges' Babel. 

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