Keyword suggestions

We’re always on the lookout for interesting and useful words to search for in titles and texts. What suggestions to do you have? Please reply to this post to add your suggestions and we’ll try to get data for them. Besides our original list, additional suggestions include the following:

middle age
middle years

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33 Responses to Keyword suggestions

  1. I suggest “specie:” it’s central to debates about money, and it crosses the “species boundary” into discussions of biology, race, eugenics, and in that way circles back to economics.

  2. How about “war” and “republic” and “democra:” (which would cover democracy, democratic, etc), and “soci:” (which would include society, socialism, etc) and “capital”.

    All these are pretty central to Victorian history, as I’ve been realizing as I studying for my oral exam.

  3. I’d like to see “museum” and “university,” both huge growth industries in the long 19th C.

  4. I’d suggest “Poems” to round out the results you’ll see from “verse” and “poetry,” already in your list.

  5. I fear that I am like the child who immediately begins flipping through the dictionary for all the forbidden words. My own research concerns the history of obscenity, chiefly in the early twentieth century (think: the 1933 trial of Ulysses), but I begin as early as 1857 with the first Obscene Publications act.

    I perhaps don’t need to list all the words that would be interesting to watch; my hunch would be that some terms leave print during heightened censorship (particularly after, say, 1857) and then come back in once strictures are liberalized.

    I will mention one term though that I’ve been interested in in the past: “bitch.” I’ve tried to trace the history of term’s life as an obscenity in print here using Project Gutenberg data (without much succcess; too small a corpus). That term is interesting b/c it has both non-obscene and obscene uses. Raw counts, obviously, can’t distinguish between these two. But any general trend would, I think, be interesting and worthy of note.

  6. Jon Deering says:

    I wonder about Duke, Earl, Baron, and Lord.

  7. Elizabeth Chairopoulou says:

    I would like to see the word “telephone” added to your list. I must confess that my reasons are self-seeking: my PhD research is on the early social history of the telephone (in Britain). This is one topic that has been neglected, both then and today. Despite the seemingly radical changes brought about by this new technology, few contemporaries bothered to write about it.

  8. Deanne Cobb-Zygadlo says:

    I would very much like to see “zeitgeist”. A word borrowed from German in the 19th century, but which seems to be going through a transition in meaning slowly over time.

    Also “Mechanization” not just of things but of people (think Dickens’ Hard Times) and the debate of “Fact” vs “Fancy”.

    Also “native” is a key word. What did it mean to be described as “native” and what values were placed on this in the Victorian age, versus our current society.

  9. Paul Fyfe says:

    What a generous offer. Would be interested to track words affiliated with the C19’s so-called “probabilistic revolution” and “taming of chance” (both recent book titles, not my keywords). Perhaps: accident, chance, random, and/or probability.

  10. John Levin says:

    Would love to see how ‘commons’ plays out. Especially if you can do some co-location magic and strip out ‘house of commons.’ A comparison with the use of ‘enclosure’ and its variant spelling ‘inclosure’ would be interesting too.

    I admit to a personal interest in this, as I’m interested in organizations like the ‘Commons Protection League’ and urban opposition, esp. around London, to enclosures.

  11. John Levin says:

    Another thought: ‘reform’ would be a good word to investigate, especially as you’ve already done ‘revolution.’

  12. Stuart says:

    How about ‘knowledge’ and then ‘know:’?

  13. Ben Olmsted says:


  14. James Lewis says:

    You are very generous. I’m rather curious about trends in views of the rest of the world, perhaps as indicated by ‘China’, ‘India’, ‘Arabia’, ‘Africa’, ‘America’, and the same in views of the self as indicated by ‘England’ and ‘Britain’. And I would like to see if there are any trends in discussion of political organisation as indicated by the words ‘nation’, ‘state’, and ‘country’.

  15. Quistador says:

    When did the words nigger, negro, blacks, whites, blackamoor, and other racial and racist words appear? I notice that “negro” and “whites” do not appear in a search here.

    • paul wiener says:

      ….in titles? Maybe Negro did; I’d be surprised if any others did.

      • Wolf Kirchmeir says:

        You’ve forgotten Conrad’s “The Nigger of the Narcissus”. And many, many others. While considered “low” in contrast to “negro”, the word did not become taboo until soemtime in the second half of the 20th century.

        Wolf K.

  16. Carmen Sanchez says:

    What about law or lawyer?

  17. paul wiener says:

    How about: man, woman (+ plurals), french (france), historical, electricity, astronomy, medicine (medical), ancient, disease, poetry, beauty, discovery, adventure, body, animal….

  18. Todd Perreira says:

    I believe charting the term “Buddha” or “Buddhism” would be instructive – it probably enters Victorian discourse around the 1820s but will not burgeon significantly until the 1870s onward. It will be very instructive to compare how the currency of discourse shifts away from terms like “religion” and “Christian” and embrace terms like “Buddhism” and “science”.

  19. Trevor says:

    How about ‘biology’ or ‘environment’? The former wasn’t around until the early 1800s, and the latter was only used frequently beginning in the 1850s. I’d love to see the trajectory of their usage.

  20. Eric Alan says:

    What about the word ‘war’?

  21. Devorah Greenstein says:

    One of my current interests is in looking at the decline of the notion of “sin” and “sinfulness” (I see that you already searched for “sin” – but how about “sinful” or “sinfulness”) — anyway, I am interested in the decline of that notion and the trend to using the idea of “brokenness” instead of “sinfulness” until now the latter has just about replaced the former.

    Would you please search for “broken” and “brokenness” in titles? …although that term may not have come into common use until after this historical period… I would like to see if it appears at all.

    Thank you.

  22. David Del Principe says:

    I believe that “animal,” “species,” and “human” would be instructive, given the changing boundaries of human-animal relations in the 19th century. Thank you.

  23. dan says:

    Added from emails I have received:


  24. Tom Mullusky says:

    Has anyone suggested “liberalism” or some truncated version? I’d be interested in finding a correlation between this term and “class”.

  25. María Cristina Alvite says:

    medicine, astronomy, arms, weapons, health, poverty, labor, women, children….

  26. Jake Abell says:

    I would be interested to see patterns in the prevalence the word “evolution”, which might indicate how much new ideas in biological evolution (also Hegelian, spiritual evolution) are on the minds of Victorian writers.

  27. J Washington says:

    How about ‘chess,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘surrealism,’ ‘clerks’ and ‘office?’

  28. George Mathias says:

    I propose “volcano;” “terrorist,” “intelligence,” “spy,” “automaton,” “computer,” “photpgraph” and “republicanism.”

  29. It might be interesting to use “brute force” to come up with interesting terms.

    1. Create a list of all words in the corpus sorted by frequency throughout the entire corpus
    2. remove obvious “stopwords” like “and, or, the” etc.
    3. plot some percentage of the most frequently occurring words (whatever you can afford to compute)
    4. write a script to pick out the steepest slopes in either direction and start hypothesizing about why

  30. Valerie Fairbrass says:

    I would like to see ‘ theatr: to catch theatre/theatrical/theatres’
    ‘drama: for drama/dramatic/dramas’
    My area of interest is the reading of song sheets/books of words/playbills connected with theatrical performances

  31. David Carlyon says:

    Can you check “aspiration”? That word, and the accompanying concept of “higher things,” propelled the middle class.

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