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.