Altmetric Blog

Tracking new attention to older publications

Amy Rees, 16th November 2017

While altmetrics are often praised for their ability to show attention in “real time”, to complement traditional citations that tend to take a few years to accrue, they also have the ability to surface attention to older publications. For example, the frighteningly titled “Occurrence of virulent anthrax bacilli in cheap shaving brushes” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1921 received news attention in 2017.

Older attention for books

When Altmetric started tracking attention to books I was very excited. Coming from a political science background I was hopeful that this tracking would be helpful to surface interesting stories about books regardless of when they were published. Books, especially those in political science, tend to remain relevant for years, decades, and in some cases centuries following their publication. During my undergraduate degree I read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” more times than I care to count.

With this belief in mind, I decided to try and uncover myself some of this attention to older books using the Altmetric Explorer.

North Dakota

Published in 1938, “North Dakota, a Guide to the Northern Prairie State” began receiving attention online in 2017. The book was highlighted in an article in The Guardian about Standing Rock, afterwhich it was cited in various Wikipedia pages.

The timeless excitement of drama

Published in 1974, “Dramas, fields, and metaphors : symbolic action in human society” discusses how our actions can take on additional implicit or explicit meaning over time. The attention captured was from; blogs, Facebook posts, and syllabi.

It was present in syllabi in three different countries, across three different continents. Perhaps highlighting that, while there is no universal meaning for any action, people remain interested in the study in human behaviour.

“Dramas, fields, and metaphors : symbolic action in human society”

Blogs, a book, and the Supreme Court

A more recent story is that of “Marriage, a history : from obedience to intimacy, or how love conquered marriage” written by Stephanie Coontz and published by Viking in 2005.

Tracing the history of marriage, Stephanie Coontz tells the story of how concepts of marriage have changed and evolved over centuries. Using OpenSyllabus data, Altmetric is able to highlight that her book has been used at fifteen institutions in more than forty syllabi.

In the lead up to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the United States the book was referenced in various blog posts discussing marriage equality, despite it having been published nearly a decade before.

The affirming opinion written by judge Anthony Kennedy when The United States Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, also referenced Stephanie Coontz’ book. Providing another example of the longitudinal impact books can have.

Adventures in the Explorer

Looking through the book attention in the Explorer was an academic treasure hunt. I started with books published in the early 1900s and looked for attention I found interesting, making use of the ability to export mentions. I hope that going forward I’ll uncover even more interesting stories and see how we altmetrics develop as a useful tool for books.


If you’d like to learn more about altmetrics for books check out our webinar ‘Altmetrics for books: tracking engagement and driving discovery’

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