The Bible was probably the most influential book in American history. Recently, historians have examined this influence in more detail, focusing on the Bible's ubiquitous presence in the United States. This is a vast undertaking, made more difficult by a lack of organized information about where and how Americans have cited scripture. One of the best tools available to historians is America's Public Bible. With this resource, Lincoln Mullen of George Mason University makes a great contribution to our understanding of the public history of the Bible in the United States. As stated on the Web site, “America's Public Bible uncovers the presence of biblical quotations in the nearly 11 million newspaper pages in the Library of Congress's Chronicling America collection.” The site uses “machine learning” to identify “over 866,000 quotations of the Bible or verbal allusions to specific biblical verses on those newspaper pages.” The site focuses on the Authorized Version—known as the “King James Version”—and for good reason, as it was by far the most-read Bible in the nineteenth century. Site users can explore 1,700 of the most-cited verses in newspapers, viewing them in context through a graphical interface. The site brings together two strands of scholarship. On the one hand, its methodology is drawn from recent digital humanities projects which are concerned with tracking the reuse of texts. On the other hand, it draws on a deep scholarly literature on the Bible as a cultural text in American life. This site allows users to find how biblical verses were cited in newspapers—that alone is a major contribution. No single historian—including Mullen—has checked all of these biblical citations for accuracy. He used machine learning to search the newspapers for matches between newspaper articles and the King James Bible. Admittedly, the process cannot claim 100 percent accuracy, but I spent a good deal of time with the site and did not find a single case in which a biblical verse was identified falsely. This is an accurate, reliable resource of great value. The site is well organized and simple to navigate. It has four main sections: (1) an introduction to the site; (2) an Explore the Quotations section that lists some of the most-cited verses by decade and enables users to search for specific verses; (3) a “Topics & Verses” section that “contains a series of mini-essays and visualizations about aspects of how the Bible was used in U.S. newspapers”; and (4) a “Sources & Methods” page that describes the technical details of how the site works. Mullen has plans to expand the project. He wants to add more data and more newspapers from another collection, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. He also plans to add more versions of scripture to the project—not only new translations of the Bible but also other scripture texts, including the Book of Mormon. Mullen also has plans to analyze the data in several essays on select topics. Clearly, this is an enormously helpful project that will be even more instructive as Mullen expands it. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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