Tracking the History of a Concept: JSTOR’s “Data for Research”

Want to track the history of a concept?

JSTOR’s Data for Research (DfR) provides one way to do this. This openly accessible database enables users to “text-mine” JSTOR articles by searching the full text of JSTOR journals and creating a chart showing how frequently a concept occurs in the literature.  In searching, one can restrict to a disciplinary area of coverage.

We used DfR to track use of mathematics in economics. Our paper, co-authored with economics graduate student Kevin Rom (now graduated), appeared in Issues in Science and Technology, fall 2012, [http://www.istl.org/12-fall/refereed4.html ]. DfR enabled us to depict the overall mathematization of economics over time and use of specific mathematical techniques within economics.  Other charts we created illustrated the results for the so-called “Turnpike Theorem”, the graph of which displays how much attention was paid to it in the economics literature, and charts displaying use of mathematics in biology and psychology.

Here are some tips for using DfR:

•    While DfR provides charts showing number of publications versus year, using Excel you can also create additional charts showing the percentage of all publications within a discipline that contain this topic year over year.
•    Use of DfR requires interpretation; we discuss four effects that potentially introduce bias into results.
•    Keep in mind that some fields are covered by DfR more extensively than others.  Social Sciences (29%), Humanities (26%), and Sciences (20%) have much greater depth than Business (5%) or the Arts (5%).
•    Depending on the field, consider using other databases mentioned in the section of the paper titled “Comparison of features of different search engines”.

Whatever your field, have fun using this easy-to-use search engine to create your own charts. For example, how hot a topic is Cubism among art historians, or Scarlatti among musicologists? What has been the impact of Wittgenstein on philosophy of mathematics?

Professor Art King (Economics) and Brian Simboli (Science Librarian)

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