What are old books telling us about the future?

- by Bruce E. McKinney


The future??

Not so much.  Transactions+ is the history of printed paper at auction and it’s tough for new terms to break in.  Covid is still very new and there are only 336 appearances of the estimated 2 billion words in this database so far.  In time Covid collections will enter into the auction rooms and fresh references will pile up.  For me, that will be left to future hands while I continue to mask-up and keep my fingers crossed.


Other terms are literally dying out.  Five hundred years ago plague and pestilence were probably front page stories too and we can tell the number of appearances is declining, as pestilence weighs in at 594 and plague at 8,052.


Other trends are holding.  References to major publishing locations are still increasing:


London:  1,901,468


New York:  1,356,234


Paris:  1,011,739


Philadelphia:  280,769


Washington:  272,701


Chicago:  133,115


Rome:  100,043


In time there will be places on this list we’ve never thought about.


As to subjects that appear in Transactions+ they appear to be the raw material of a serious study.


Often old books focus on life’s downsides.  A search for war in Transactions+ finds 504,027 records while peace finds 47,825.  On the other hand love finds 110,628 while hate has 3,354.  Interestingly future and past are about equal:  43,411 versus 47,329.  Certainty tops uncertainty although neither term has been widely used, shows up with 2,061 versus 1,445.


Another way to challenge Transactions+ is to run these two searches:  religion and science.  Religion wins big with 1,253,081 while science has a respectable showing with 304,075.  I assume science will be gaining ground week by week into the future.


As well, life wins over death with 539,175 versus 169,957 while birth registers at 20,930.  Searches for cure and disease have a slight positive bias; 9,573 versus 8,411.


As to other terms:


Manuscript:  395,683


Manuscripts:  773,725


Newspaper:  47,418


Ephemera:  120,005


Map:  487,144


Maps:  720,330


And finally two silly ones:


Hells-bells 6


Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious 20


To personalize your experience run your own searches.  Transactions+ is a mirror.