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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

The Klout Score of 1903: A Statistical Study of Eminent Men

Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

How do you measure influence? What is notability? It might seem that before the social ranking site Klout came along to assign people numbers by cold, numerical, social media calculation, the only way to rank people's importance was by hunch and opinion. Your top 100 might be different from my top 100, and who was to say which one captured the truth? But long before the age of Klout, there was psychologist James McKeen Cattell and his 1903 paper, "A Statistical Study of Eminent Men."

Cattell wanted to develop a measure of social importance that would move the study of great men from the realm of literature into the realm of science. In order to put a number on greatness, he first had to determine what, exactly, should be measured. Men could be important in different ways:

"We have men of genius, great men and men merely eminent. Thus many a genius has been a 'mute inglorious Milton' lacking the character or the circumstance for the accomplishment of his task. Washington was scarcely a genius, but was truly a great man. Napoleon III was neither a genius nor a great man, but was eminent to an unusual degree. But if we simply take those men who have most attracted the eyes and ears of the world, who have most set its tongues and printing presses in motion, we have a definite group."

So Cattell decided the number he needed was to be found in the measurement of "the motion of tongues and printing presses." He came up with a strategy to discover the set of men who had been most talked about. First, he took the 2000 longest articles from each of 6 different encyclopedias (English, French, German, and American), narrowed them down to the list of those that appeared in at least three of the encyclopedias, and then from that list chose those with the greatest average number of lines devoted to them over the whole set.

The top 25 men

The end product was an ordered list of the 1000 most eminent men. The top 25 were Napoleon, Shakespeare, Mohammed, Voltaire, Bacon, Aristotle, Goethe, Julius Caesar, Luther, Plato, Napoleon III, Burke, Homer, Newton, Cicero, Milton, Alexander the Great, Pitt, Washington, Augustus, Wellington, Raphael, Descartes, Columbus, and Confucius.

The bottom 10, as expected, are much less recognizable to us today: Otho, Sertorius, Macpherson, Claudianus, Domitian, Bugeaud, Charles I (Naples), Fauriel, Enfantin, and Babeuf.

Once he had the list, Cattell endeavored to unlock some of the secrets of greatness by analyzing factors like era, nationality, and what the greats were known for. For example, France was first in eminence, followed by Britain, Germany, Italy, Rome, Greece, America, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, and Sweden.

The real point of all this was to provide support for Cattell's ideas on eugenics. He used the statistics on nationality to argue for the unsavory conclusion that race and heredity were the primary factors in greatness; he reckons, for example, that the fall-off in Greek eminence after the classical period was due to "racial mixing."

At the same time he undermines his own point by cautioning against reading too much into France's numbers, arguing that "the French Revolution brought into prominence many men not truly great" and asserting that "in so far as the curves for the nineteenth century are valid, the promise for America is large." (Yes, Cattell was American.) So I guess he thought circumstances did have something to do with who ends up on the list? Still, the paper ends with an ominous call for science to gather more quantitative data that would help society figure out how to "improve the stock" and produce more great men.

What about the eminent women?

Cattell had not intended to leave women out of his analysis. A few did end up on his list of 1000. He explained that by "eminent men" he really meant "eminent people," but since women did "not have an important place on the list" there was no reason not to just say "eminent men" and be done with it.

However, ten years later, a student of Cattell's named Cora Sutton Castle decided to use his measurement technique to study eminent women for her doctoral dissertation. Needless to say, she came away with a slightly different conclusion about the role of different factors in eminence.

The top 25 women

Castle intended to work with a list of the 1000 most eminent women, but after applying the encyclopedia strategy and removing women of the Bible from the list, she was left with only 868. The top 25 were Mary Stuart, Jeanne d'Arc, Victoria of England, Elizabeth of England, George Sand, Madame de Staël, Catherine II of Russia, Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette, Anne of England, Madame de Sévigné, Mary I of England, George Eliot, Christina of Sweden, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Madame de Maintenon, Josephine of France, Catherine de Medici, Cleopatra, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Corday, Marie Roland, Jeanne Pompadour, and Barbara Krüdener.

You can see Castle struggle to extract conclusions similar to those of her advisor from her breakdown of the data, but the "race" angle (which was really nationality) didn't yield much. She does find it interesting that the ratio of eminent women to the population in general increases so much (and far more than it did for men) over the course of history, and notes that one reason for the recent spike may be that "ability in women is more readily and willingly recognized at the present time than formerly."

"Who knows," she asks in an aside about ancient Greece, "but that her women were as potentially as great as her men, and if Plato's theory regarding the education of women had been universally applied, the curve might not have risen higher?" She concludes the thesis with a hypothetical question that she clearly knows the answer to: "Has innate inferiority been the reason for the small number of eminent women, or has civilization never yet allowed them an opportunity to develop their innate powers and possibilities?"

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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