Google Ngrams — A Hypnotic Resource

One of the more con­tro­ver­sial things that Google has done (at least to authors such as myself) was to dig­i­tize and con­vert a wide vari­ety of writ­ten mate­r­i­al and present it to the pub­lic. (Writ­ers were con­cerned about copy­right issues, some­thing that direct­ly affects their profession.)

How­ev­er, with that dig­i­tized mate­r­i­al now avail­able, it is pos­si­ble to process it is many dif­fer­ent and inter­est­ing ways. One of them is Google Ngrams, which is a search engine designed to track the appear­ance of cer­tain words in the col­lec­tion and relate them to spe­cif­ic eras when that word was used. In oth­er words, this is a search tool to reveal the times in which a spe­cif­ic word became part of the lit­er­a­ture and to track its pop­u­lar­i­ty. The data­base only can pro­vide infor­ma­tion for the peri­od 1800 to the present, however.

But since the word “hyp­no­sis” and the relat­ed terms were cre­at­ed by James Braid in the 1820’s, they def­i­nite­ly fall with­in the time range. So, just as an exper­i­ment, I entered the terms “hyp­no­sis”, “hyp­no­tism” and “hyp­no­tize” into the data­base and got this result. As I expect­ed, the three terms start­ed appear­ing in the 1820s, but what mild­ly sur­prised me was the jump in appear­ances in the ear­ly 1880’s, prob­a­bly coin­cid­ing with the increased inter­est in the sub­ject in Vic­to­ri­an Britain and America.

In con­trast, a com­par­i­son between “hyp­no­tism” and  “mes­merism” here shows a rel­a­tive­ly sim­i­lar rate of appear­ance since before the start of the data set, with a spike in the ear­ly 1840’s and 1850’s, then set­tles down to a rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble appear­ance rate up to the 1920’s and slow­ly declin­ing to present.

Anoth­er part of the search engine, one that has been around for a while, allows for search­es inside the var­i­ous books, mag­a­zines and arti­cles in the data­base, This includes not only a num­ber seri­ous books on the sub­ject but also a num­ber of pieces of fic­tion as well. They’re well worth inves­ti­gat­ing: one exam­ple here searched for any­thing in the 1800–1850 time frame that includes the word “mes­merism” and returns sev­er­al items, includ­ing works by such ear­ly fig­ures as James Esdaile and Thomas Buckland.

I plan on inves­ti­gat­ing this resource much more deeply in the future, but for now its an inter­est­ing tool in itself.

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