Tracking Student Attitudes, 1916-1966

Group Members:

Alice Welna, Pallav Kumar, and Dustin Michels.

Project Description:

The second fifty years of Carleton’s existence (1916-1966) is a very turbulent period. In 1919, dancing is permitted on campus for the first time and (coincidentally?) enrollment surges. In 1943, a World War rages and male enrollment plummets. We see “The Cave” and the radio station spring into existence, while the religious requirement fades into oblivion. We see Presidents change, and  Friedrich von Schiller suspended by a helicopter during a football game.

Our group is interested in understanding the attitudes, opinions, and concerns of students during this turbulent period, by plotting the usage of various keywords in student publications (especially the Carletonian) against a timeline of important events.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.27.10 AMA good model of the type of project we wish to create is perhaps an interactive graphic published by The New York Times that shows “Strikeouts per game” for various teams and for the “league average” on a timeline. Seeing the scatter plot line rise and fall over time tells an interesting story– for example, the number of strikeouts falls in 1969 when the pitching mound is lowered. The graph is interactive in that when a user mouses over a point, they see additional data about that point (the team, the year, and the strikeouts-per-game value).

Proposed Methodology:

In order to examine how students have responded to certain events or themes over the years, we will track the appearances of those items in the student newspaper The Carletonian. To operationalize what students were concerned with, we will select a handful of words relating to important events and ideas in the first half of the twentieth-century– for example, war, patriotism, communismfood, women, and dancing. In the Carleton College Digital Archives, one database consists of scans and fully searchable transcriptions of the Carletonian. Searches can be limited by date, making it particularly useful for examining the 1916-1966 period. The database also shows the number of documents that contain the search terms, and how many times the words are mentioned in each document. By searching year by year for a term, it should not be too difficult to record how many appearances a word makes each year. However, if the number of documents becomes unmanageable, we may need to find a more automatic system of recording the recurrence of a term.

Searching the Carletonian database

Once we’ve collected our data–number of appearances for each word or word group, sorted by year–we will simply organize it into some kind of spreadsheet to create a type of timeline with it. We won’t have to do much transformation of our data. Instead, we will tell a story by presenting both the historical event information and the word-count data. Our analysis will consist of our describing how historical events influenced life on Carleton’s campus at that time, using changes in word frequency to support our argument.

Our project’s presentation will be closely tied to our argument. As previously mentioned, our data will be organized into some kind of timeline or line graph with a few different lines, each tracking word frequency over time for a different word or word group. With our timeline, or graph, we will have some visual marker denoting important events which can be clicked on or moused-over to show more information. We may choose specific quotes for each year to support our argument, which will then be shown when a user clicks on the point for the corresponding year. Our graph will, of course, have some sort of description accompanying it–this may take the form of an article describing our findings for each word or word bundle, telling a user about the impact of each event in words.


A rough timeline for this project looks like this:

  • Oct 20th: Words/word groups and historical events being tracked should be chosen
  • Oct 27th: Completed spreadsheet with word frequency by year
  • Nov 3rd: Method of presentation chosen; graph/timeline without interactivity complete
  • Nov 10th: Added historical events with brief explanations to timeline
  • Nov 17th: Finished polished timeline, explanation of events and impact



  1. Woah! This is such a cool project. It’ll be interesting to see how attitudes changed from decade to decade, and how those changes fall on the general nation-wide spectrum of college student attitudes (i.e. are they behind, ahead, or right on time with it?). They way you choose to present it also seems pretty user friendly and will surely captivate their interest as much as it did mine.

  2. I really like the idea of your project. I agree with Tonya, it will be really interesting to see how attitudes have changed over time. I look forward to seeing the final product!

  3. Team Carletonian,

    This is a great project, and I’m really interested in seeing what you turn up from the collection. However, I’m sure you will find that this is true

    if the number of documents becomes unmanageable, we may need to find a more automatic system of recording the recurrence of a term

    There are many ways to programmatically scrape data from archives, but from a quick look at the collection the newspapers have been digitized by Arcasearch, a third party company, and their search app doesn’t use URL query strings. We can dig around a little more to try to find out if there are ways to get lots of plain text more quickly than manually inputing search terms, which would greatly limit your options…

    I’ve sent them an email to ask if they have an API, and I’ll let you know what they say.

  4. This is such a great idea. I am really excited to see what you guys end up with. I love that you’re going out of the box and looking at how external factors play part in Carleton’s environment. My group is looking at how where carleton students come from and how that changes the Carleton environment. It’ll be really interesting to see things like international laws, policies and happening play part in how many international students come to Carleton, It would also be really interesting to also see how state specific events shape the amount of students that enter Carleton.

  5. This is such an interesting project, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out in a few days. I think that it’s cool to see how words can fade in and out of use, and when they become so commonplace that we no longer need to reference them. While Carls are pretty politically engaged now, I can’t imagine them being as involved or talkative about war as they were during periods of turmoil.

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