Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Deathly Dataset

The topic for my dataset is one of the biggest topics in everyone’s lives, but gets talked about too little in proportion to its significance, probably due to the difficulty many have with it: death.  Of course, since there are so many differently angles from which death can be discussed, this prompted me to try and include as many of these angles as possible in my dataset.  For example:

-        Witnesses to death
-        The afterlife
-        Justifications for death
-        Murder
-        Suicide
-        Genocide
-        War
-        The bereaved

Because of this sprawling approach to the topic, I decided that I would focus on the literature, film, painting, history, etc. that I have already studied and collected in my life.  While I of course have prior familiarity with all of them, I have never made a concerted effort to look at this common thread through these materials as a whole.  As such, it was interesting to see the variety of works I knew that I could bring into this dataset.  I can’t say that I ever thought I would be grouping together Beetlejuice, the Bible, the Zodiac Killer, and Yukio Mishima.

As an American who grew up in North Carolina, Finland, and Ohio, I unsurprisingly have a more-or-less Eurocentric viewpoint that heavily biased my dataset to works from, the history of, and the predominant religions of Europe and the Americas.  Because of this, I did make a concerted effort to draw on my background in Asian Studies, as well as my ongoing self-education in international politics, news, and history, to bring in works, images, and events from the world outside of Europe and the Americas.  This was not too difficult when it came to Asia, since I have made concerted studies in that area, but I still feel that Africa and Oceania are not as represented as I would have liked for them to be, as well as parts of South America, since I am more familiar with North and Central America.  This dearth is especially true of religious works, images, and events, as I am nowhere near as familiar with non-Eurocentric religions as I would like to be.

The majority of my materials were found on Wikipedia (as well as other Wikimedia Commons sites), Project Gutenberg, Google Books,, IMSDb, and  The rest were all found on various blogs and other web sites via searching on Google.  And I must mention, I do wish Google Books had better support for downloading plain text files, as I found two medieval works I wanted from there to be illegible when I used OCR on the PDFs I downloaded.  And if it weren’t such a time-consuming pain (and if it weren't for half of them being on blu-ray, which has horrendous DRM), I would have loved to rip many of the films I own on disc to have included in my dataset; instead, I’m settling on just the scripts.

To download a copy of my dataset as a zip file, click here.


  1. What an interesting topic to cover! Mortality often hangs the wings, more a shadow than a subject brought to light ( perhaps due to the intangible interpretiveness of thetopic) You mentioned sourcing from a variety of international sources; I wonder, did you notice any overarching implications regarding your original criteria? Thematically speaking, it would be neat to map varied cultural attitudes towards death across national borders.

  2. Hi Thomas, the link to your dataset seems to be broken.

  3. There, fixed the URL on that; messed up the case-sensitivity. Woops.