Historians have regularly debated whether advertisements can be used as a viable source to study the past. Their main concern centered on the question of agency. Were advertisements a reflection of historical events and societal debates, or were ad makers instrumental in shaping society and the ways people interacted with consumer goods? Using techniques from econometrics (Granger causality test) and complexity science (Adaptive Fractal Analysis), this paper analyzes to what extent advertisements shaped or reflected society. We found evidence that indicate a fundamental difference between the dynamic behavior of word use in articles and advertisements published in a century of Dutch newspapers. Articles exhibit persistent trends that are likely to be reflective of communicative memory. Contrary to this, advertisements have a more irregular behavior characterized by short bursts and fast decay, which, in part, mirrors the dynamic through which advertisers introduced terms into public discourse. On the issue of whether advertisements shaped or reflected society, we found particular product types that seemed to be collectively driven by a causality going from advertisements to articles. Generally, we found support for a complex interaction pattern dubbed the consumption junction. Finally, we discovered noteworthy patterns in terms of causality and long-range dependencies for specific product groups. All in, this study shows how methods from econometrics and complexity science can be applied to humanities data to improve our understanding of complex cultural-historical phenomena such as the role of advertising in society.
|Journal||Digital Humanities Quarterly|
|Publication status||Published - 2020|