Only Crook pointed this out in a comment — and it’s neat enough to raise to a headline:
. . . have you seen the U.S. Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud http://chir.ag/phernalia/preztags/ I happened upon a speech by Millard Fillmore, so naturally I thought of this blog. I can’t link you directly to the speech I looked at, which was his 1850 State of the Union Address, (you have to use the slider to get there) but these were the most common words in that speech according to the tag cloud:
appropriations california constitution negotiation pacific ports revenue territory treasury treaty war
Go try it out. It’s a very interesting tool for the visual portrayal of information — visual portrayals that I don’t know how to copy for display here.
For example, notice the arrival of the word “California” in presidential speeches, circa 1848. Note how the word grows over the next few years, but then disappears just prior to the Civil War — what might that suggest to students about events in California, compared to events in the rest of the U.S.? Or, track the word “Constitution” from the earliest speeches/writings listed to the latest. Or track the use of the word “Iraq” in President Bush’s speeches, between 2000 and 2007.
The tool is ahead of its time, a fun device now. The key question is, how should we be using such information?
Chirag Mehta created the program. Browsing his site will give teachers good ideas about what can be done by a decent programmer. Does any school have a programmer to make such things for the classroom? And we’re supposed to be using technology? (Mehta’s stuff may be as good as it looks — see this article about the tag cloud device, in the Wall Street Journal, no less.)