While the topic models above reveal shifts in the content of Ullback’s articles, they are more representative of a larger trend in physical culture. By the time Ullback returned to Photoplay in 1937, she was struggling to find a venue for her rhetoric, hence the shift in content. The ideas that she had preached early in her career were becoming unpopular in society. The exact reasons for this shift require a much deeper analysis but it is likely that the term Physical Culture became associated with Europe, perhaps specifically Germany and their display of Aryan superiority in the 1936 Olympics. While this can’t be definitively shown, the Google Books n-gram viewer shows a steep decline in the term “physical culture” beginning in 1935. Nevertheless, the textual analysis of Ullback’s articles suggests a shift in ideas about physical culture and indicates the need of a more in depth study of physical culture. Topic modeling allows the historian to examine shifts and changes in text and future work on this topic would use a larger corpus of text to further understand this and other shifts between 1900 and 1940.

Google N-Gram Search for “Physical Culture”

Topic Modeling as a tool for historical research opens new possibilities for historians. While this site used topic modeling on a very small sample of documents, it is the potential that topic modeling holds for historians that is important. A larger examination of this trend would draw on much larger sample of physical culture books, articles, and other writings could be used to view the changes in ideas about the body, diet, exercise, and health over a much larger period of time. Physical culture was not unique to Hollywood or to Ullback. By incorporating books by others, newspaper columns on the subject, and other magazine articles, this trend could be examined with much greater accuracy. While Ullback’s story and articles are interesting and suggestive of some larger trends, it is only a case study and is not necessarily representative of physical culture as a whole in the United States. With the increase in digitized materials available to the historian the question now becomes “How can we deal with the expanding amount of material available to us?”. Topic modeling provides one answer to that question by allowing a “distant reading” of a large corpus of text and displaying the common themes throughout. Improving upon traditional historical research methods, topic modeling makes it possible for historians to examine and draw conclusions about larger periods of time and space rather than narrowing their studies. While topic modeling doesn’t replace traditional historical research methods and close readings of primary sources, it has the potential to prompt new questions and is a valuable tool in aiding historians in their research and conclusions.

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