Text mining Mill: Computationally detecting influence in the writings of John Stuart Mill from library records

Helen O'Neill, Anne Welsh, David A Smith, Glenn Roe, Melissa Terras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

How can computational methods illuminate the relationship between a leading intellectual, and their lifetime library membership? We report here on an international collaboration that explored the interrelation between the reading record and the publications of the British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill, focusing on his relationship with the London Library, an independent lending library of which Mill was a member for thirty-two years. Building on detailed archival research of the London Library’s lending and book donation records, a digital library of texts borrowed and publications produced was assembled, which enabled natural language processing approaches to detect textual reuse and similarity, establishing the relationship between Mill and the Library. Text mining the books Mill borrowed and donated against his published outputs demonstrates that the collections of the London Library influenced his thought, transferred into his published oeuvre and featured in his role as political commentator and public moralist. We reconceive archival library issue registers as data for triangulating against the growing body of digitized historical texts and the output of leading intellectual figures. We acknowledge, however, that this approach is dependent on the resources and permissions to transcribe extant library registers, and on access to previously digitized sources. Related copyright and privacy restrictions mean our approach is most likely to succeed for other leading 18th and 19th century figures.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfqab010
Number of pages17
JournalDigital Scholarship in the Humanities
Early online date27 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Feb 2021

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