The Carletonian is a student-run editorial newspaper published at Carleton College in Northfield, MN since 1877. Currently, the Carletonian is distributed Fridays during the academic term at various points around the campus.

In an effort to make knowledge about the history of the Carletonian more accessible, this project aims to present a textual analysis of a sampling of front pages to view the most frequently reoccuring words and themes.

To see the entire data set that we made this cloud from, click here.

This word cloud displays the relative frequency of word occurrences in the corpus.  Our application of the term ‘corpus’ is a limited one; we have chosen to take a smaller sample of front pages for our data (only front pages; only 1883-2019; only three issues (Feb, May, Oct) per year).  For more information about sampling, see Methodology.  It’s important to note that the results discussed in this section do not map perfectly on to the complete ‘corpus’ of the Carletonian (i.e., not every word ever printed in a Carletonian issue is represented here). 

With that being said, the words that come through most strongly in the word cloud are not particularly surprising!  Campus, president, committee, Minnesota – these are terms that regularly crop up in everyday Carleton discourse, and it stands to reason that some of them would occur particularly often in front page articles (the college president, for instance, is likely associated with or quoted in relation to many major campus news stories).  If we take a closer look, however, some of the words represented in the cloud are less familiar to us.  Some may be explained with research or Carleton insider knowledge.  The prominence of the word tuesday, for instance, might be linked in part to the Tuesday Group, a gathering of administrators from the highest offices of the college who often play a major role in determining Carleton agenda and public image.  Other words may be surprising at first but are easily enough understood when we remember Carleton’s long history; war and oratorical, for example,  both likely make it onto the cloud due to particular periods of time in which they were much more topical in the immediate Carleton environment than they generally are today.

The word cloud, like most of our visualizations, is limited – it only gives us a sense for relative word frequency, divorced of context.  It can’t distinguish between usages of the word president to apply to a college president as opposed to a U.S. president, for example, and those would tend to be two very different articles.  Since the word itself does not always signify the exact same thing, the conclusions that we can draw from any of the results on this page will always, within the scope of our project, be partially dependent on speculation.

The following graph sets depict the frequency of term usage in our sample of the Carletonian front pages and — in some but not all of the graphs– for the sake of comparison, in Google Books data.  Our hope in putting these graphs side by side was to compare the small liberal arts college (SLAC) discourse of Carleton, often jokingly referred to on campus as the ‘Carleton bubble’, to patterns in discourse in published books (for our purposes, ‘the real world’).

We’re getting right into it with one of the least popular New Student Week topics around.  It’s well-known that Carleton began as a Congregationalist college, within the already Christian-dominant larger backdrop of the 19th century United States.  Naturally, God entered more often and more directly into public, student-run discourse – in the national historical context and the less-diverse student body, religion had a larger place in public discourse.  Roughly the same might be said of the early years of the Google Books data.  After a few decades, however, Carleton begins to see a steep descent in frequency, while the frequency in the Google Books data dips but resurges without crashing altogether.  Over time, like many private colleges, Carleton has distanced itself from its Congregationalist roots (with the religious requirement being abolished in 1964) and begun to admit incoming classes from more and more diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.  While published books continue to research and reflect upon God or the idea of God more than ever, meeting public interest, most students would agree that the atmosphere in the Carletonian is a little different.  There are plenty of possible explanations for this – the world of student journalism doesn’t have the same relationship with religion as the world of book publishing does, for starters.  But surely one side of the situation here is the growing secularity of Carleton’s campus, as reflected in the way that its own students discuss – or don’t discuss – popular religion.

At Carleton, the Skinner Memorial Chapel serves as a catchall space for events religious, spiritual, or ceremonial (or those that require a large space).  Built in 1916, it likely accounts for the dominance of the term over the two specifically Christian terms that characterized the college’s early history.

Carleton’s side of the data when it comes to war is harder to parse.  The Google Books data makes sense: there are two major spikes, each coinciding with a World War.  The Carleton community lived and studied through these events, too, but the spikes are much less prominent, and there are many other upticks in the frequency.  Our best attempt to interpret this is to suggest the opposite side of our reading of the God data: perhaps Carleton students and Carletonian editors continually reflect upon and discuss war and public policy even in peacetime, in a way that they do not Christianity (and maybe as an extension, religion).

What can we make of these?  A hot topic in the current community of Carleton students, faculty, and staff is (and has been for many years) gender.  More recently, that conversation has begun to focus on how we talk about gender and what categories our vocabulary allows to emerge and thrive.  If we had sampled data from 2020-present and perhaps created a visualization of the term “folks” or other gender-neutral terms that have become commonplace at Carleton, it could have been an interesting experiment – but for the moment, we look to the binary.  The slight decline in the usage of the term men, as well as the rise in usage of the term women, might both be partially attributable to the growing numbers of women enrolling in the college.  Men becomes a term that does not map on to the student body and grows less and less equivalent with the word ‘people’.  As multiple waves of feminism sweep the world, self-aware discourse about women and their place on campus was also surely on the rise.

Carletonian history

Front Page of the Carletonia

Over the years, the Carletonian has undergone many a stylistic change. The video below is a timelapse of its major visual and titular transformations.

Create your timeline


Learn more about our process and our sources.


View a selection of front pages from The Carletonian from 1877 to 2019.

An old photograph of Willis Hall, currently Carleton's economics building, rising out of the prairie.

Old Willis Hall

Mai Fete

An old photograph of the Mai Fete pageant, a Carleton tradition observed by graduating seniors.