Getting ready for ESSWE4: interdisciplinary panels, international networking, magickal musick – and the transhuman apocalypse

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ESSWE4: Gothenburg, Sweden, June 26-29, 2013.

I’m only doing one conference this summer season, but that is already turning out to be a massively busy and exciting event. Now that the final program is available, and the book of abstracts can be downloaded, the ESSWE4 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, stands out as everything that an international conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism should be: strongly interdisciplinary (the inclusion of historians of science and medicine is particularly noticeable, and a greater number of sociologists and anthropologists is also a highly welcome development), with a rich and varied program that includes panel sessions, discussion groups, roundtables, and keynotes. There is also a dinner in the Masonic Hall and a final esoteric concert event: Genesis P-Orridge and Carl Abrahamsson (known in the esoteric world as editor of The Fenris Wolf) perform live with their act, White Stains. P-Orridge and Abrahamsson will even appear in a half-hour discussion group at the conference itself on the final day, entitled “Music and Esotericism from the Inside Out”.

Browse the program on the website to find out more.

In addition to that, you should check what people are saying about the event in social media on this Tagboard (join the conversation with the tag #ESSWE4). This promises to be the first ESSWE conference with live twitter feeds to follow, so do check that out and contribute if you are going! (I hear there will be free wifi available, so no need to worry about insane roaming charges) .

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Errata, and a lesson of caution for “culturomics”

In the previous post I shared my enthusiasm about possible applications for digital, quantitative tools for studying historical data. Focusing on how Google’s N-gram Viewer may lead to interesting findings in the field of esotericism, both in order to gauge trends in popularity or spread of a certain term (such as “esotericism” itself) in various languages, and in order to research philological matters. In the latter case, one of the preliminary results seemed much more like a breakthrough at first sight than it really appears to have been. In fact, now instead we have an illustration of a serious difficulty with this kind of research, which emphasises the necessity of the critically-minded, suspicious human scholar in the middle of all digital tools.

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Quantitative heterodoxology

Last week Science published an article introducing the term “culturomics” – the quantitative study of cultural trends. By constructing a database out of the by now 15 million books that Google have digitized over the past years, a Harvard based research team led by Jean-Baptiste Michel have created a powerful searchable tool which makes it possible to create quantitative date for analysing cultural trends. As they state in the abstract:

We constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed. Analysis of this corpus enables us to investigate cultural trends quantitatively. We survey the vast terrain of ‘culturomics,’ focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology. Culturomics extends the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.

In short, this is a tool which has the potential to revolutionise research methods in a vast number of fields. The best part: Google Labs have made the tool (the Ngram viewer) publicly available. Before even starting reading the article I found myself  thinking about a number of applications for my own research and field. Below follow some  rough examples, and preliminary results which already seem to challenge established knowledge in the history of esotericism.

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