Word Clouds

Jonathan Feinberg designed Wordle, a free program which allows users to create artistic word clouds out of nearly unlimited amounts of text. These clouds help readers see the frequency of word usage. We have created a special Wordle cloud for the one hundred most commonly used phrases in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates and have made that cloud clickable to the actual text in the debates where Lincoln or Stephen Douglas mentioned these words. This can be a powerful teaching and analytical tool. For instance, the word cloud demonstrates clearly how the debates focused on the national argument over slavery. Scholars can also use the clickable cloud to browse all of the instances in the debates that produced “laughter” or “cheers,” at least according to the very partisan newspaper transcribers. Word clouds of particular debates can be of value as well. We have posted a word cloud image of the Fourth Debate at Charlestown where Lincoln stated, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” This line has become one of the most frequently quoted in modern classrooms and scholarship yet a word cloud illustrates that “Trumbull” (as in Republican Illinois senator Lyman Trumbull) was a topic far more referenced in that discussion than “negro” and thus helps indicate how their preoccupations in 1858 were much different than ours today. To view word clouds of all seven debates and to see comparative clouds of modern-day debates, such as the famous Kennedy-Nixon clash of 1960 or the Gore-Bush presidential debate of 2000, click on the word clouds below.

These word clouds represent the top 50 words of key debates in American history, intended for approaching them in a new way.
Represented here are the seven Lincoln/Douglas Debates, two modern debates for comparison purposes, as well as a word cloud featuring the top 100 words in all seven of the Lincoln/Douglas Debates.

Images courtesy of Wordle