Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tomographic View of Every Single Presidential Inaugural Address

Again, hats off to the New York Times, who posted yet another great interactive graphic. This one allows you to scroll through every U. S. presidential inaugural address since George Washington and see the most-used words in that speech.

This view of these speeches gives me the same feeling I get when I "slice" up a patient with CT or MR, and take a real-time stroll through their body from different angles. This Times chart gives a fascinating overview of the events of the times faced by each president, as echoed in their address. It also lets one to instantly dive down into the context of a given speech to see how a particular word was used.

For example, the word "women" was used more than twice in only 4 of the inaugural addresses in the past 100 years: by presidents Wilson, FDR, Bush-1 and Obama.

Wilson, FDR and Obama used the word respectively 4, 3 and 4 times, and then only in the context of the phrase "men and women". Bush-1 used "women" four times, and is the only president to have singled out the word "women" twice:
...There are young women to be helped who are about to become mothers of children they can't care for and might not love.

... who will throw a salute by himself when the flag goes by, and the women who will tell her sons the words of the battle hymns.
It must have taken the graphics gremlins at the Times a ton of time to create this Flash-based graphic. However, it seems like the process should lend itself to automation.

I'd love to have a generalized software tool that would allow me to grab multiple text and images sources and create an instant interactive concordance like this excellent Times graphic. Such a program could be an amazing tool for education. Any developers listening out there?

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