OED Subject Matter

In my last post I described using HathiTrust’s Solr Proxy API to fetch Hathi genre metadata for OED quotations. But genre is not the only metadata that Hathi sends back down the intertubes when I ask it a question. For most works, I also get a Library of Congress Classification code for the volume. This would be the number you’d use to find your book in your university library.

While shelfmarks aren’t a great proxy for genre in most cases, they do a fairly decent of describing subject matter (though arbitrarily – if you were inventing a system today you would not likely include a separate top-level category for both “military science” (U) and “naval science” (V), and you would not lump together poetry, dictionaries, and books on psycholinguistics in another top-level category called “language and literature” (P).

Even so, working with subclasses and rearranging things a bit when necessary, it’s possible to get a fairly good sense of what kind of book you’re dealing with, and a strong idea about the general domain of knowledge. Read More


Hathi Genre Again – Zero Recall

In “Hathi’s Automatic Genre Classifier” [17.01.06] I compared the consolidated automatic genre metadata for a subset of HathiTrust Digital Library texts (available here) to the genre classifications arrived at for human-inspected works as part of the OED quotation tagging project under-way at The Life of Words. My process there was pretty closely supervised, but the […]


Guest Post: Magazines and the Dentist Test

Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is a research assistant working on identifying the textual genre of quotations in the OED. Here he writes the first in a series of posts on borderline and difficult genre determinations. Filtering quotation blocks is essential to optimizing our results with the quantity of data we deal with here at LOW. For a […]


Hathi’s Automatic Genre Classifier

The HathiTrust Digital Library is a massive collection of digital books: As of 2017, it contains 5 billion pages from 15 million volumes (7 million titles). About 40% of these are public-domain works, meaning anyone can search and read them. Some of these have been marked for their textual genre. Here I do a little […]


OED Gender Genre

In “Sex in the OED” I  ran through some figures on female vs male representation in OED quotation evidence, comparing the original OED1 with the later Supplements that resulted in OED2. Here I look a little closer at what kinds of works by women the two editions tended to cite. Below are two charts breaking […]


Burchfield’s Reach-Backs

The vast majority of the quotation evidence in Robert Burchfield’s OED Supplements comes from after the first (1928) edition was completed. The median date for these is 1944, whereas for the first edition it’s 1742. However, in some circumstances the Supplements did reach back into periods already covered by OED1 — if it could antedate […]


Sex in the OED

Two subprojects concerning OED quotation metadata are now near enough to complete to present some preliminary results. They concern the sex of the authors quoted in the OED, in both the first edition (1928) and the later Supplements (1933, 1972-86). The most focused work on this question so far has been Baigent, Brewer, and Larminie, […]


Entitled Professor

I happen to have an interest and a certain amount of expertise in words that mean their own opposites. You might say I’m qualified to post here on that topic. You might even say I’m entitled to my opinion on a wider range of things in which I’m not necessarily expert. But if you call […]


Guest Post: Strong and Weak Genre Classification

Over the summer we’re featuring guest posts by Research Assistants at The Life of Words. Here Cosmin Dzsurdzsa – a 2nd year undergraduate in English at UW – thinks about moving from human intuition to computer rule-making in textual-genre classification: When trying to automate text classification algorithmically, one has to pay close attention to how […]


Guest Post: A Winter-Evening Conference and the Problem of Genre

Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is well into his first full-time co-op term as a research assistant at The Life of Words. Here he tells us about a case that seemed to challenge every classification rule we developed. What is “genre”? This is a question I constantly find myself asking as an RA here at The Life of […]