About the Database

The Mind is a Metaphor, is an evolving work of reference, an ever more interactive, more solidly constructed collection of mental metaphorics. This collection of eighteenth-century metaphors of mind serves as the basis for a scholarly study of the metaphors and root-images appealed to by the novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, philosophers, belle-lettrists, preachers, and pamphleteers of the long eighteenth century. While the database does include metaphors from classical sources, from Shakespeare and Milton, from the King James Bible, and from more recent texts, it does not pretend to any depth or density of coverage in literature other than that of the British eighteenth century.

☞ The database was assembled and taxonomized and is maintained by Brad Pasanek.

The database supports keyword searching and faceted browsing. The facets are explained here. If you're interested in "fancy searching" (boolean syntax, proximity searches, etc.), you might read about Lucene's Query Parser Syntax.

An original bulk of metaphors was collected during Brad Pasanek's graduate school career in the English department at Stanford University. An early version of this database, built in Filemaker, served as the basis for his dissertation titled, Eighteenth-Century Metaphors of Mind, A Dictionary (Stanford: 2006).

I/Brad continue to add to the database and edit entries. I enter new metaphors that are sent to me by email and credit contributors. In 2008 and 2009, Suzanne Morgen, my research assistant at the University of Virginia, proved a particularly tireless editor, contributing new metaphors and editing hundreds of old ones. In 2010, P.C. Fleming likewise contributed many new and interesting metaphors, edited entries, and worked with me on the administrative backend of the database. In spite of Suzanne's and P.C.'s excellent work, one should be aware that not all entries are complete or corrected and that the database remains a work in progress. My typos and mistakes remain mixed with the more recently edited entries. For years, I've cleaned up entries as I compile, but I don't catch all my mistakes--and I make a lot of mistakes.

Finally, it should be emphasized that this electronic collection of snippets is, above all, an effort in search and text mining. Which means it is more of a heap or helter-skelter anthology than online archive (for examples of which see The Blake Archive, The Willa Cather Archive, The Rossetti Archive, or The Walt Whitman Archive).

Dictionary and Database. Lev Manovich describes the database as the "symbolic form" of the computer age, and although I am a digital humanist and a reader of Manovich's media theory, I collect and make these metaphors public for early modern reasons. The tables of this relational database, arrayed in phpMyAdmin, look (to me) not unlike a kind of commonplace book. Encoding and sharing snippets is characteristic of the way we read now, online, but in considering the longue durée of scholarship and information management, I am inspired by Ann Blair's discussion of early modern note-taking in Too Much to Know. My practice is further informed by Walter Benjamin's experiments with literary montage, Raymond Williams' study of keywords, and Franco Moretti's Distant Reading. In collecting and taxonomizing metaphors I would model my efforts on the prodigious note-taking of Keith Thomas. His charming description of the "Oxford method" in the London Review of Books is a must-read for commonplacers and note-takers.

Scope and Textual Sources. I aim at a very long eighteenth century (1660-1819); outside this span of years my efforts at collection are necessarily eclectic and miscellaneous. Moreover, the user should be aware that a majority of the entries have not been given scrupulous bibliographical treatment. Catch as catch can, I promiscuously employ a wide variety of sources ranging from ECCO and EEBO to Project Gutenberg, from Google Books to Chadwyck-Healey. I read university press editions but also visit special collections. While I currently draw from an uneven variety of print and electronic sources, I do hope in the future to apply a more consistent policy for recording textual variants and transcribing spelling and punctuation. For a few works in languages other than English, I have tried to provide bilingual text.

I try to choose the earliest available edition for my copy-texts. Recently I've been checking my bibliographical citations against the English Short Title catalogue (ESTC) and cross-referencing my metaphors with the earliest printings I can locate in Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), and Google Books. When I consult the ESTC regarding a specific title, I make an effort to include new information in the database about the popularity of the text and the number editions printed in the eighteenth century.

Acknowledgments. When I began this project at Stanford, Matt Jockers helped me plan the structure of the original database. Matt, Nicole Coleman, Glenn Worthy, and Jeremy Sabol all provided invaluable technical support and advice during these grad-school years. When I left Stanford in 2006 for the University of Southern California, I met a USC undergraduate named Casey Stark--a whiz and a credit to research assistants everywhere!--who freed the metaphors from their original Filemaker format and helped me build a new relational database in MySQL. For a year or two I tried tweaking and building on top of Casey's PHP-MySQL assemblage but found I was not equal to the task.

I now teach at the University of Virginia, and the database has shed its PHP scripts and been reinvented in a Ruby-on-Rails framework. Not long after I arrived in Charlottesville in 2008, Bethany Nowviskie set in motion an impressive programming effort involving Jack Kelly, Matt Mitchell, and Wayne Graham at UVa's Scholars' Lab. Wayne and Matt helped me reimagine my database. I am delighted. Wayne Graham, in particular, patiently initiated me into the workings of Ruby, Solr, and Subversion. He continues to keep the servers running and the bugs at bay. I am oppressed by his benefactions and almost apoplectic with gratitude. He has been extremely generous with his time as I edit Ruby scripts and install and upgrade packages and libraries on my laptop.

On the Contents of the Database

There are over 12,000 metaphors in the database as of July 23, 2013. I've hundreds more marked in books and scribbled on notecards, and I am typing those up -- slowly, surely. It's much easier to cut and paste.

I haven't completed all of my planned searches, and my original protocol may be classified as "hunt-and-peck." But for the past few years I've been collaborating with D. Sculley, formerly of Tufts University's Department of Computer Science and now at Google Pittsburgh. Employing machine-learning methods, we have trained a computer to correctly label metaphors and non-metaphors. Our experiments suggest we may be able to automate much of my daily drudgery by using a classifier trained on a seed set of 100-200 labeled metaphors and non-metaphors. This hand-curated database of metaphors would then be put to work in bootstrapping efforts, repurposed as training data for automated classifiers sent forward and backward in history, departing from the eighteenth century in order to collect Renaissance and Victorian metaphors.

Should we eventually build an automated metaphor-classifier and charge it with exploring the great unread collections of electronic literature, I would be more confident in presenting a statistical picture of eighteenth-century discourse. In the meantime we have been conducting experiments and presenting papers on machine learning and literary studies, making the rounds at conferences in the digital humanities. Two papers we've written have been published in Oxford's Literary and Linguistic Computing.

At present I still spend a fair amount of time conducting proximity searches for two character strings. I search one term from a set list ("mind," "heart," "soul," "thought," "idea," "imagination," "fancy," "reason," "passion," "head," "breast," "bosom," or "brain") against another word that I hope will prove metaphorical. For example, I search for "mind" within one hundred characters of "mint" and find the following couplet in William Cowper's poetry:

"The mind and conduct mutually imprint
And stamp their image in each other's mint."

What follows is a rough breakdown of the database's contents:

Provenance (last updated July, 2013)
More than 5,980 of the metaphors were found keyword searching Chadwyck-Healey through the Stanford Humanities Digital Information Service SULAIR search interface. The search interface, named HUGO, has now been retired.
Over 900 more metaphors were discovered searching Proquest's Literature Online collections (LION), which expanded and have now replaced the original Chadwyck-Healey collections
783 metaphors are from my Orals reading or date from my first six months of collection
Over 3,000 I've encountered while reading since then
More than 450 metaphors were discovered searching in Google Books
338 were found browsing in Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO)
218 were found keyword-searching texts in the Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty (OLL)
188 were found keyword searching the Intelex Past Masters database
180 are from Roger Lonsdale's Eighteenth-Century Women Poets. Oxford: OUP, 1989.
150 are from the King James Bible (UVA edition)
110 were found browsing in Early English Books Online (EEBO)
Over 100 were found searching Project Gutenberg texts
67 were taken from Johnson's Dictionary
27 are from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
21 are from Ad Fontes Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts
Some Rubrics (last updated July, 2013)
595 Animal entries
842 Architecture entries
1181 Body entries
388 Fetters entries*
423 Garden entries
1,553 Government entries*
582 Light entries
551 Liquid entries
884 Mineral entries*
344 Optics entries
880 Population entries
209 Visual Arts entries
553 War entries*
406 Weather entries
733 Writing entries*
2,695 Miscellaneous or "Uncategorized" entries

I've done in-depth proximity searches for Fetters, Government, Mineral, War, and Writing metaphors. These categories are marked with an asterisk in the list above.


In my current book project, Eighteenth-Century Metaphors of Mind, A Dictionary, I analyze a collection of over 12,000 metaphors that I've assembled from various electronic and traditional sources. I consider the tacit assumption, shared by a variety of scholars, that changing metaphors are indicative--if not productive or constitutive--of broader cultural change. In contrast, my research makes clear that, with few important exceptions, metaphors of mind in the eighteenth century display astonishing persistence in the face of Enlightenment ferment and revolutionary change.

I am keenly interested in digital innovations in humanities research. But I am also a student of the history of the book. Technology enables my approach to discourse, but I remain situated in the longer tradition of philology and intellectual history. To best accommodate my material, I've structured my book as a dictionary or encyclopedia. There are no chapters in the manuscript, and I aim to shift my reader's focus from authors and texts to tropes and usages. Instead of chapters, I compose entries of five to twenty pages in length. In each entry I make local arguments about fancy's coinage, reason's empire, the court of conscience, strangers within, the mind's eye, a soldier's "mettle" or "metal," and so forth. Even the most unlikely metaphors have careers: the mind is once likened to meat rotating on a smoke-jack in the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus and then again in Tristram Shandy.

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.