Linguistic DNA of Modern Western Thought

The University of Sheffield has been awarded £900k by the AHRC for an exciting new project that aims to understand the evolution of early modern thought by modelling the semantic and conceptual changes which occurred in English discourse from c.1500- c.1800.

Corpus based approach

The project, called The Linguistic DNA of Modern Western Thought, will use information extraction techniques, high performance computing and data visualisation to identify lexical patterns in 250,000 texts (approximately 37 million pages) from Early English Books Online (EEBO) and the Eighteenth Century Corpus Online (ECCO).

Research themes

The result will be a complete lexical model of the development of concepts in Western thought in the English language. The model will enable the project to explore three research themes: 1) the historical and discursive contexts in which concepts develop; 2) the linguistic characteristics of concepts; 3) the characteristics of word formation and vocabulary size within conceptual fields.

Project leads

The project is led by Professor Susan Fitzmaurice from the School of English (Principal Investigator) and Michael Pidd from the Humanities Research Institute (Co-Investigator) in partnership with colleagues from HRI Digital, the University of Glasgow and the University of Sussex.


A public workbench will be set up to make the raw results of the data processing available for public view and feedback. The resulting database of linguistic patterns, plus the search and visualisation features will be made available at the end of the project on a public website. More information Further details can be found at:

Tags: linguistics, AHRC, English, early modern, Susan Fitzmaurice, HRI Digital, Humanities Research Institute