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Project Objective

The purpose of this project is to compare speeches by U.S. Presidents. The comparisons are made by time, by president, and by type of speech given. The main point of comparison is the topics in the speeches.

Here are some of the questions that might be answered based on the comparisons:

Did the topics in speeches change over time? Did different presidents focus on different topics? What topics were predominant in Inaugural speeches vs. State of the Union Speeches?

Project Scope

A corpus consisting of all U.S. presidential speeches would be extremely large and outside the scope of this project. Some selection critiria were made to narrow down the corpus. The first criterion was to only use Inaugural and State of the Union (SotU) speeches. The second was to limit the number of presidents. Selection criteria for the presidents are as follows:

Has at least 2 Inaugural speeches (and by extension has at least two SotU) Has some unique circumstances that make them stand out No more than 2 presidents from any 50 year period Some from when the SotU were delivered as speech and some from when the SotU were delivered as written messages Final Selection:

George Washington James Madison Abraham Lincoln Grover Cleveland Woodrow Wilson Franklin Roosevelt Richard Nixon Barack Obama Washington and Obama were selected for the obvious reason that they are the first and last presidents. They span the entire time frame for this project. Cleveland was the only president to serve non consecutive terms. FDR was the only president to serve more than two terms. Lincoln was president during a time of upheaval in U.S. history. Wilson was the president that reinstituted spoken SotU address.

Extending the Project

Given time, the scope of this project may be extended in various ways. One way is to expand the corpus to include all presidents and other types of speeches. Another way is to tag for different items of interest. Some examples might be:

All mention of places outside of the U.S. These places can be further coded with their region and time of mention. These can be used to visualize how the U.S.'s focus on foreign policy have shifted over time. All mention of proper names. Do presidential speeches refer to historical figures, or contemporaries? Are they famous people or ordinary folks? Are they other politicians, philosophers, scientists, or some other types? Are they other presidents? It would be fun to see which presidents gets mentioned most by other presidents. This can probably be calculated as aggregate number of mentions or number of mentions per years since they have been president. Who or what gets quoted in the speeches? Do the presidents like to quote other people or books or something else in their speeches? About

This project is for the Autumn 2015 session of the Computational Methods in Humanities course. Course website can be found here.


Language of presidential speeches



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