This post is about a number of different things. It’s about Muhammad Ali, cultural memory, names, the press, the civil rights era and racial discourse. More than anything however, the words that follow are about exploring new ways of doing historical work in the digital age. 2,164 more words
Steve Townsend at Sport in American History has written an article where he describes using "distant reading" to analyze large amounts of digital data on Muhammad Ali. According to Townsend, distant reading allows researchers "to see a body of texts in a broad, topographical way. In doing this we can 'look down' upon a body of work and pick out the trends and concepts that interest us." Townsend used distant reading to examine when newspapers used the names “Muhammad Ali” and “Cassius Clay” over an eleven year period. This is an intriguing experiment because Townsend points out that each of these names is tied two different identities. While Cassius Clay identity was that of a “brash young boxer,” Muhammad Ali could more accurately be described as an international “geopolitical figure.” Townsend’s distant reading leads to some interesting conclusions.