Tuesday 23 October 2012 – Luke Blaxill – Quantifying the Language of British Politics, 1880-1914

Digital History seminar
Luke Blaxill (King’s College, London)
‘Quantifying the Language of British Politics, 1880-1914’
Tuesday 23 October 2012
Room G34 (Gordon Room) 
Live from 5.15pm (BST) on History SPOT: https://historyspot.org.uk/podcasts

Please join us on the 23rd October for the second seminar from the Digital History seminar either in person at Senate House or online.

The live stream will include options to Tweet (using the #dhist tag) and chat on the chat feature. Both options allow you to ask questions of the speaker. The History SPOT live stream is now only available as pop outs from the podcasts page. Please let us know what you think of this change and if there are any ways we can improve things for you.


This paper explores the power, potential, and challenges of studying historical political speeches using a specially constructed multi-million word corpus via quantitative computer software. The techniques used – inspired particularly by Corpus Linguists – are almost entirely novel in the field of political history, an area where research into language is conducted nearly exclusively qualitatively. The paper argues that a corpus gives us the crucial ability to investigate matters of historical interest (e.g. the political rhetoric of imperialism, Ireland, and class) in a more empirical and systematic manner, giving us the capacity to measure scope, typicality, and power in a massive text like a national general election campaign which it would be impossible to read in entirety.

The paper also discusses some of the main arguments against this approach which are commonly presented by critics, and reflects on the challenges faced by quantitative language analysis in gaining more widespread acceptance and recognition within the field.

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