Tuesday 25 September 2018 – Tony McEnery (Lancaster) – Studying history with corpora: social outsiders in the seventeenth century

This seminar is 5:15 pm – 6:15 pm, 25 September 2018, in Room 203 (the John S Cohen Room), second floor, Institute of Historical Research. The IHR is in the North block of Senate House, University of London. Find Senate House on Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. It will also be livestreamed.

Session chair: Tessa Hauswedell


 Berries, whores and rain – some reflections on journeys through historical text collections

What do linguists see when they look into the past? In this talk I will give an overview of some findings from four years of looking at large volumes of textual data from the past – principally the seventeenth century (1 billion words), but also some findings from looking at the nineteenth century (billions of words of newspaper material). While the work has principally been driven as a way of seeing how the techniques of corpus linguistics can help to illuminate changes in language use over time, we have worked as a team, a linguist and an historian, as historical context is important for understanding language change and, contrariwise, changes in, or specific usages of, language can help us to understand changes in society over time. This talk has its roots in linguistic methods but will focus not on method, but on findings – findings which allow us to critically evaluate claims about the past, those which allow us to understand the representation of groups in the past and those which allow us to develop a fuller view of ‘real world’ events in the past. In doing so, the accent throughout the talk will be upon how linguistics and history can engage in a mutually beneficial exploration of newly emerging digital datasets together. I will conclude with some critical reflections on what we have done to date.


Tony McEnery is the Founding Director of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS). He is also Distinguished Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University, UK. He was the founding Director of Research at the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (2005-2008) and later was Director of Research (2016-2018) and interim Chief Executive (2017-2018) of the UK Economic and Social Research Council. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (2008-2012) and Head of Department of the Department of Linguistics and English Language (2000-2005) at Lancaster University, from 2000-2005.  He has authored a large number of books on the use of large bodies of language data, so called corpora, to study language and has used them to explore a range of languages. His published works include Corpus Linguistics: Theory Method and Practice (CUP, 2011), Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes: the representation of Islam in the UK Press (CUP, 2013) and Aspect in Chinese (with Richard Xiao, John Benjamins, 2004).

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