Tony McEnery & Helen Baker Lancaster University “The poor in seventeenth-century England – a corpus based analysis.”
This paper examines changing perceptions of poor people in seventeenth-century England by means of a corpus analysis of the phrase the poor as it appears in the Early English Books Online (EEBO) corpus. We address the challenges of using a very large historical corpus and describe our methodological approach – our study is based upon a collocational analysis in which collocates are categorised in terms of how often they attach to the poor in each decade. Dominant popular discourses regarding people living in poverty tell us who these people were, the hardships they faced, and the type of relief, both official and charitable, they were given. We found that the phrase the poor was often associated with the criminalized poor at the beginning of the century but, as the decades progressed, the phrase was increasingly accompanied by collocates which presented poor people as deserving of compassion.