We use machine learning to estimate the features of early seventeenth-century English culture, applying structural topic modeling to the works of Francis Bacon and Edward Coke. The estimated topics reflect a core set of cultural ideas spanning legal, political, scientific, and methodological themes. Legal topics are highly connected, revealing an advanced structure of common-law thought that straddles areas of ostensibly disparate legal scholarship. The methodology of the common law is used to structure principles that are applied to debates both inside and outside law. Interconnections between topics uncover a distinctive approach to the pursuit of knowledge, embodying both Coke’s legal methodology and Bacon’s epistemology. Similarities between Bacon and Coke overshadow differences when conditioning on intended audience and time of authorship. Our estimated topics are constitutive elements of an emerging culture that reflected a legacy of common-law thought and that provided the core intellectual paradigm as England began its early ascent.
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