This study reveals that the entry into World War I in 1917 indexed the decisive transition to the modern period in American political consciousness, ushering in new objects of political discourse, a more rapid pace of change of those objects, and a fundamental reframing of the main tasks of governance. We develop a strategy for identifying meaningful categories in textual corpora that span long historic durées, where terms, concepts, and language use changes. Our approach is able to account for the fluidity of discursive categories over time, and to analyze their continuity by identifying the discursive stream as the object of interest.
A synoptic picture of the evolution of American politics is presented, based on analysis of the corpus of presidents’ State of the Union addresses, 1790–2014. The paper presents a strategy for automated text analysis that can identify meaningful categories in textual corpora that span long durées, where terms, concepts and language use changes, and evolution of topical structure is a priori unknown. Discourse streams identified as river networks reveal how change in contents masks continuity in the articulation of the major tasks of governance over US history.
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Rule, Alix, Jean-Phillipe Cointet, and Peter S. Bearman. 2015. "Lexical Shifts, Substantive Changes, and Continuity in the State of the Union Discourse, 1790-2014." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Published online before print, August 10, 2015. doi:10.1073/pnas.1512221112.