Thursday, January 6, 2011

charting use of the term "communism" in books

Here's a chart showing the use of the word "communism" in all the books that Google has scanned for its GoogleBooks collection. As a student of 1960 and of American communism/anticommunism, I'm really not surprised that usage of the word "communism" was still on the rise in 1960--that it peaked around then, just after that year. Maybe this merely says that writers take a while to incorporate words into formal writing ("book writing") and that actual use (orally and in print journalism) peaked during the heyday of McCarthyism (1949-1954) but found its way into books a little later. Such charts are merely suggestive, anyway, and are hardly definitive. The chart is hard to see, so just click on it for a larger view. Look closely and you'll discern a little dip during the several World War II years when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were allies. Perhaps the term "brothers" was more in use then. Another little downward turn at the end of the 1950s and then up up up in the late 50s and early 60s. Another bump up during the Reagan years.

Slate's weekly "culture gabfest" discussed this new little feature provided by Google, which Steve Metcalf expressing reasonable doubts about its effect on the humanities. I'm with him, but feel pretty sure that (a) I won't give up nuanced close reading of the words (e.g. each slightly distinct rhetorical use of the word "communism" in 1960) and (b) I won't--because one can't--draw any definitive conclusions from the charting. Nonetheless, the chart above does tell some kind of story. That peak circa '60 does seem significant. Time, then, for more reading....