In the years after the American Revolution, U.S. presidents were talking about the British a lot, and then about militias, France and Spain. In the mid-19th century, words like "emancipation," "slaves" and "rebellion" popped up in their speeches. In the early 20th century, presidents started using a lot of business-expansion words, soon to be replaced by "depression."
A couple of decades later they spoke of atoms and communism. By the 1990s, buzzwords prevailed.
Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., has developed a method for a computer to find the topics that dominate a discussion at a particular time by scanning large collections of documents for sudden, rapid bursts of words. Among other tests of the method, he scanned presidential State of the Union addresses from 1790 to the present and created a list of words that eerily reflects historical trends. The technique, he suggests, could have many "data mining" applications, including searching the Web or studying trends in society as reflected in Web pages.
Bill Steele | Cornell News
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