After London was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, it was reconstructed into the “emerald gem of Europe,” a utopian epicenter focused on England’s political and economic interests. For whom was the utopia constructed? Who determined its architectural choices? And what did such a utopia look like in seventeenth-century London?
Our research uses Natural Language Processing to analyze semantic trends in digitized text from the online database “Early English Books Online” (EEBO-TCP https://textcreationpartnership.org/tcp-texts/eebo-tcp-early-english-books-online/) to answer such questions. After applying methods such as word-embedding, sentiment analysis, and hapax richness, we provide an overview of themes in the seventeenth century; specifically, we conducted case studies on changes to coal taxes within the period and the reconstruction of St Paul’s Cathedral. Our results thus show that, while a utopian society was originally intended to be built for the people, the project’s motivation eventually shifted to a political purpose, as evidenced by the approval of more costly city projects. In response to backlash against the increase of taxes on coal to support large-scale building projects, the ruling class highlighted positive outcomes in printed materials in order to convince working class persons that their collected taxes contributed to a greater good, despite evidence to the contrary. Finally, during key historical events, sentiment and hapax richness are shown to have an inverse relationship, the results of which can demonstrate how London writers engaged with text and genre as forms of protest.
Watch the team’s final project presentation on Zoom: