‘Beauty’ and the ‘Beautiful': a Computational Analysis of the Company They Kept Across the Eighteenth-century Corpus

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This article is a computational enquiry into the different ways in which two words, assumed to be central to the eighteenth-century concept of aesthetics, were used across that century. Using word co-association measures designed specifically for this study, I show the markedly different lexis that surrounded the words ‘beauty’ and ‘beautiful’ in three decades of historical textual data from Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Having demonstrated that these words were used in very different semantic contexts in the beginning, middle, and end of the century, the article presents semantic network diagrams which further demonstrate the distinctness of noun from adjective. I argue that while ‘beautiful’ is suspended in a semantic space that is recognizably aesthetic, ‘beauty’ is not. Furthermore, that which is deemed ‘beautiful,’ according to the evidence presented here, presents something of a challenge to received narratives of how the concept of aesthetics developed throughout the eighteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-107
Number of pages20
JournalThe Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2021


  • Beauty beautiful digital humanities distributional hypothesis ECCO 18thC aesthetics distant reading

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