Research process using AI for an undergraduate English student

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Background – This demonstration is one simplified theoretical example of how students can use AI to improve their research and also layout the process broadly step by step. As of now, all the tools mentioned below are free to use the way I describe for the general public. Some of these tools are “freemium” models meaning they have paid versions with more capabilities. With freemium models, they sometimes further restrict the free capabilities once they have a larger user base.

It is important to explain to students that AI models are not really “intelligent” in the sense they have logic etc. Instead they are prediction engines, responding with the most likely text for a given prompt. This is way they are generally vague yet authorative sounding. The engines will nearly always generate a response regardless of it’s certainty. Therefore, any facts need to be double checked elsewhere.

For my hypothetical situation, I’m imagining a student interested in the poet Michael Field.  Michael Field is a pseudonym for two lesbian poets, Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper. The student would like learn more about Michael Field particularly how Michael Field influenced and was influenced by other writers at the time by finding common themes of the era and looking at how Michael Field approached these themes in comparison to their contemporaries. If you are interested in more quantitative AI tools, skip to the bottom to the “Further Notes” section.

Step 1 background – I want to begin background reading on the poet Michael Field, contemporaries in contact with Michael Field, and common themes of the era in general and of Michael Field’s poetry specifically.  I would suggest using Perplexity or Copilot within the Edge browser with the prompt as “Student” below for a few reasons:

  • Perplexity and Edge both provide citations for their response, which I’ve added below in the exchange for better readability. Important caveat, AI generators are only utilizing plain text on the web, not including full pdf texts from Google Scholar etc.  Perplexity does provide an option to “Focus” on “Academic” sources.  These include SemanticScholar and Arxiv because they have plain text versions of the articles openly available.  So although far from comprehensive, still helpful at this stage.
  • Perplexity also provides a section just below with possible follow up prompts or questions.
  • I specifically ask for a number of examples in the prompt.  In general, the more specific you can be with AI the better, and one of the most common ways is to specify length, amount, number, etc.

I start by asking Perplexity to provide a short bio of Michael Field, common themes in their poetry and a list of their contemporaries.  Once I have some background, I use Perplexity to generate possible search terms as well. The example for finding a list of search terms is below.

Student: I am interested in finding articles about homosexuality in poetry during the Victorian era. Please provide 15 potential search terms I can use for library databases.

Perplexity: Here are 15 potential search terms for finding articles about homosexuality in poetry during the Victorian era:

    1. Victorian homosexual poetry
    2. Homosexuality in Victorian poetry
    3. Victorian homoerotic literature
    4. Gay themes in Victorian poetry
    5. Same-sex love in Victorian poems
    6. Queer representation in Victorian poetry
    7. LGBTQ+ themes in 19th-century poetry
    8. Victorian poets and homosexuality
    9. Homosociality in Victorian literature
    10. Male-male desire in Victorian poems
    11. Victorian era and homosexual verse
    12. LGBTQ+ poets in the 1800s
    13. Victorian attitudes towards same-sex love in poetry
    14. Homoeroticism in 19th-century literature
    15. Gender and sexuality in Victorian poems

These search terms can be used to explore various library databases and academic resources for articles and materials related to homosexuality in poetry during the Victorian era.



    • victorian poets who wrote about homosexuality
    • how did victorian society view homosexuality
    • the role of poetry in the victorian era

Step 2 – Database search

From my brief and very general background reading, I’ve prepared sets of search terms I can use for finding potentially related articles using our library’s databases.  When searching the databases, I want to save the full PDF texts of potential articles into one folder. I’m going to then open each article with the Edge browser, ask for a summary and potential follow up questions. If it is likely useful, I will keep it in the folder for closer reading. If not, I will delete it from the folder.

As an example, I’m going to use the article “Queer temporality in Victorian love and marriage poems”.  I open the file with Edge.


Please summarize this article in three paragraphs.


Here is a summary of part 1 of the article:

      • The authors examine how Victorian poets Tennyson, Meredith, and Michael Field use amatory lyric to question the institution of marriage and the linear telos associated with it.
      • They argue that these poets employ a queer temporality that does not move forward in its trajectory but moves through repetition as a way to undermine the heteronormative expectations of marriage and reproduction.
      • They focus on how Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Meredith’s Modern Love, and Michael Field’s Long Ago reshape the expectations of writing about nineteenth-century desire and offer new possibilities for different kinds of love and marriage poems.

See more:

      • Part 2 discusses the epithalamium genre, which is a type of wedding song or poem that celebrates the passage of the bride from virginity to marriage and motherhood. The authors explain that epithalamia often follow a three-stage structure: the procession, the threshold, and the chamber.
      • The authors argue that Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Meredith’s Modern Love, and Michael Field’s Long Ago can be read as epithalamic revisions that challenge the conventional expectations of marriage and sexuality in the Victorian era. They show how these texts use the epithalamium form to express grief, loss, betrayal, and desire, as well as to imagine alternative forms of kinship and futurity.
      • The authors also explore how these texts engage with queer temporality, which is a concept that questions the linear and progressive model of time that underlies normative narratives of marriage and history. They suggest that these texts disrupt the teleology of heterosexual marriage by invoking the past, the future, and the cyclical in their epithalamic visions.


Write a short a short biography of Tennyson along with some of the writer’s common themes


Alfred, Lord Tennyson was an English poet born on August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England [1]. He was the fourth of twelve children and demonstrated his literary talents quite early, writing a drama in blank verse and a 6000-line epic poem by the age of fourteen [1]. Tennyson enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 18291. His volume Poems, Chiefly Lyrical was published in 1830, but it made no significant impression on the reading public [1]. In 1832, Poems by Alfred Tennyson was published, in which early versions of many of his finest pieces appeared, including “The Lady of Shalott,” “The Palace of Art,” “The Lotos-Eaters,” “Oenone,” and “A Dream of Fair Women” [1]. Tennyson’s literary style is representative of the Victorian age, dealing with the reign of order: the law of the spiritual world and exercising the flawless man [2]. Many of his poems are about the temptation to give up and fall prey to pessimism, but they also extol the virtues of optimism and discuss the importance of struggling on with life [3]. The need to persevere and continue is the central theme of In Memoriam and “Ulysses” (1833), both written after Hallam’s death [3].





Write a short a short biography of Meredith along with some of the writer’s common themes


George Meredith was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era, born on February 12, 1828, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England [1]. His novels are noted for their wit, brilliant dialogue, and aphoristic quality of language. Meredith’s novels are also distinguished by psychological studies of character and a highly subjective view of life that, far ahead of his time, regarded women as truly the equals of men [1]. His best-known works are The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) and The Egoist (1879) [2].

Meredith’s writing reflects many of the concerns and themes of the Victorian period, such as social change, the role of women in society, and the impact of industrialization on the working class [3]. He was also known for his innovative style, which was noted for its syntactic complexity [2].

Some of the common themes in Meredith’s works include the struggle between idealism and realism, the conflict between the individual and society, and the tension between the old and the new [4]. His works often explore the complexities of human relationships, particularly those between men and women [3].






What is an epithalamium? Was it a common genre in the Victorian era for writers? How did these authors use epithalamiums differently?


An epithalamium is a poem that is written specifically for the bride on the way to her marital chamber [1]. It is a form of poetry that has been popular throughout history, and it was especially popular in ancient Greece and Rome [1]. The Roman poet Catullus wrote a famous epithalamium, which was translated from or at least inspired by a now-lost work of Sappho [1].

In the Victorian era, the novel was the leading literary genre in English, but poetry and theatre were also present [2]. The use of epithalamiums was not as common in the Victorian era as it was in ancient times, but some poets did use the form. For example, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote an epithalamium called “The Marriage of Geraint” [3].

Victorian writers used epithalamiums differently depending on their individual styles and interests. Some used the form to celebrate the joys of marriage, while others used it to explore the complexities of human relationships [2]. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example, wrote an epithalamium called “The Soul’s Expression” that explores the idea of love as a spiritual force [4].

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Poetry Foundation

[3] Victorian Web

[4] Poem Analysis


Note –  This line below from the AI is incorrect and a good example of how errors (hallucinations in AI jargon) can sound believable but be fictitious.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example, wrote an epithalamium called “The Soul’s Expression” that explores the idea of love as a spiritual force [4]

At this point, I’m confident the article is useful.  It includes Michael Field and how their contemporaries shared a common theme and genre. Now I can also use Edge to ask questions about portions of the text I find difficult.


Could you rephrase this line from the text? What is a telos? Why is this important?

“If Victorian marriage as a story of progress performs a reproductively-focused narrative – thus mirroring the heteronormative trajectory of courtship, marriage, and finally reproduction – then by reading these poems as cyclical rather than linear in nature, we can reevaluate their framing of marriage as a way to resist such telos.”


Certainly! Here’s a rephrased version of the sentence: “If we view Victorian marriage as a story of progress that follows a linear, reproductively-focused narrative, then by reading these poems as cyclical instead, we can reassess how they frame marriage as a way to resist this narrative.”

In this context, telos refers to the idea of a final goal or end point [1]. The author is suggesting that Victorian marriage was often portrayed as a linear progression towards reproduction, which reinforces the idea of heteronormativity [2]. By reading these poems as cyclical, the author argues that we can challenge this narrative and view marriage in a different way [2].

[1] Merriam-Webster



Using the more focused collection of articles from my database search, I’d like to see if I missed anything by searching via a different method.  My example article is my most relevant article, so I’m going to start there.  I go through the Notes section of the article and pull out references that are most likely to meet my goal of finding information on Michael Field, their use of themes and genres common to the era in comparison, and how they compared to their contemporaries. We’re going to use Litmaps and it’s Discover function.  I will add this paper and six others from the notes section of my article and have it generate the network visualization with each paper being a node/dot connected via their citations. Nodes in the center are articles I added, those on the outside are suggested articles from Litmaps.  If you select one of those articles, it displays the information about the article on the left and shows how it is related to the other articles via citations by default.  I can than use this interface to find additional related articles and follow the same process above.

Litmaps Visualization


Further Notes

This theoretical process doesn’t cover all of the common use cases for using AI in student and faculty research. In the examples above, I  limited the querying and summary of PDFs to a single file at a time. Germini (formerly Google’s Bard) has a feature that lets you do the same for a collection of PDFs shared within a folder on Google Drive.  I wrote about this earlier on the blog, scroll down to the section on “Summarizing text for research“.

Edge and Gemini now both also have the capability to accept images for analysis and summaries. They both worked quite well on basic infographics.  If anyone tries either using a more complicated chart including math equations, I’d appreciate hearing about results.

There are also tools designed specifically for quantitative functions. EinBlick is a standalone site for creating charts and visualizations using an Excel spreadsheet or share Google sheet.  The chart below was created with a Google Sheet using the following prompt.

“show me a bar chart of the number of messages by language use a different color for each bar”


Finally, SciSpace does a little of all of the above allowing you to question and summarize PDFs, ask for explanations within the text, and interpret data. However, it focuses only on the sciences. Also note they changed their url from SciSpace to be As of now, the free version is still quite generous, though I believe this is likely to change.

Hopefully this has been helpful. If you have other suggestions or feedback, please leave a comment below or email me at

Language Technology Basics Fall 2022

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For students, some basic tools every student should know if taking a foreign language.


It’s a huge time saver to be able to touch type and not use ALT codes in Word (or worse using Insert -> Symbol)  To do this, you’ll first want to add keyboard for your language in Windows of Mac.

Mac has a very nice page that lets you choose your operating system and then provides instructions here.  Language keyboards will already be installed on many lab machines as well, look for a flag top right on Macs.  If not, you can also add keyboards on lab machines on campus.

For Windows, use the instructions first for “Add a keyboard” on Windows 10 or 11 here.  You will then see the keyboard language symbol in your taskbar at the bottom where you can set the keyboard you want to use.  You may also see keyboards are already installed on lab machines on campus.  If not, you can add them the same way.

Not done yet, though.  Of course our physical keyboard is still the same, it’s just the actual keys now map to different letters, accents, etc.  If you’re new to this, you’ll need to see the keyboard layout.

For Macs this is called the “keyboard viewer”, instructions to open it are here. In Windows it’s called the “One screen keyboard” in the Ease of Access sections.  Instructions are here.  One thing to note, while look at you keyboard layout, press SHIFT to see what letter, characters, access are available while holding down SHIFT.

Dictionary Plugin for Chrome

Chrome has a nice dictionary plugin that allows you to see the definition of a word in a foreign language or set to see a translation.

  1. Install the Google Dictionary.
  2. To enable, click the puzzle icon top right in Chrome and then the pin.
  3. To configure, click the vertical three dots next to that pin and choose “options”
    1. The language is the language in which you want the definition to appear.
    2. If you check the first box and leave the trigger key as none, any word that you double click on a web page will open a box displaying the definition.
    3. Note that it can store your history and you can download those words here later for review.
    4. Click Save.


Mixxer Update Article Published on FLTMag

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Interested in a language exchange?  The Mixxer has been completely redesigned and now includes live-chatting and new social functions including ways to thank users for corrections and find other active and selfless learners in the community.

Search screenProfile screen

You can read more about the update on FLTMag.

Rise of Rome, historical simulation using Civilization V

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In the year 264 BCE, Rome sent a military force across the Straits of Messana to intervene in a dispute between Carthage and Syracuse. This military action, a prelude to Punic Wars, represented a fundamental change of direction in the course of Roman history and capped a crucial period of expansion. Five centuries earlier, Rome was nothing more than a collection of huts on a hill near the Tiber river and its salt beds. By the time the Romans sailed for Sicily, they had mastered the Italian peninsula and invented a system of political subjugation, population control, and military calculation that would eventually make them masters of the known world.
The year 264 also marks a shift in the security of our evidence and understanding of the course of Roman history. From that point onward, we have more and more valuable and trustworthy sources, but before that time our tradition is, as Mary Beard says in her recent history SPQR, “based on garbled hearsay and misunderstood myth—not to mention the propagandist fantasies of many of the later leading families at Rome, who regularly manipulated or invented the ‘history’ of the early city to give their ancestors a glorious role in it.” Our most important ancient source for the period is the Ab Urbe Condita of Livy, who composed his history during the principate of Augustus (27 BCE–17 CE). Originally, the work covered the history of Rome from its legendary beginnings, Aeneas’ flight from Troy, to his own era, the death of Drusus in 9 BCE. Of the original 142 books, only 35 have survived: books 1-10, which cover Roman history from its mythical beginnings to 293 BCE, and books 21-45, which cover 218-167 BCE. While Livy is a valuable resource for understanding the history of this time, and while the study of archaeology and the material record have supplemented our literary sources to a degree, there is still much we do not know or understand about the story of how Rome came to dominate the Italian peninsula by the middle of the third century BCE.

To understand the early history of Rome, then, we must closely scrutinize and creatively manipulate every precious piece of evidence we have, and this project was intended to do precisely that. We proposed to create a simulation of the expansion of Rome throughout the Italian peninsula using the game Civilization V. Grounded on thorough research into the primary literary sources, the material record, and recent scholarship, the finished simulation presents the gamer with a more historically accurate representation of the history of Rome.
Our team consisted of research intern Ian White, coding intern Catalina Ionescu, research advisor Scott Farrington, and coding advisor Todd Bryant.

We expect several concrete outcomes from the project. First, we hope that the general public and the Civilization gaming community enjoy the modified game and through gameplay gain a basic understanding of the history of the period. Furthermore, we intend to integrate the mod into the Introduction to Roman History course at Dickinson College. Furthermore, we hope to present the results at upcoming digital humanities conferences.

We hope that by developing an innovative and creative way to interact with early Roman history, we have opened new avenues of inquiry into a historical question that is current, by no means settled, and often overlooked.

Read the entire ReadMe file documenting the research –

Download via Steam –


WorldBuilder Map

Opening Screen Game Map Puppet Options

CIV 5 Mod, Western World in 1492 Historical Scenario

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The Dickinson College 1492 Historical Scenario mod for Civilization V, created by Patrick Schlee and Edwin Padilla and advised by Professor Ed Webb and Todd Bryant, aims to provide a historical environment representing Europe and the Americas with the greatest possible historical accuracy within the limits of the simulation.

Using built-in as well as customized variables and game logic, significant phenomena of the early modern era, including the late Renaissance, early Scientific Revolution, the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Reformation and are included. Playable civilizations include the Aztecs, the Quiche Maya, the Tarascans of Michoacan, the Incas, the Songhai, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, Venice, and the Papal State. This map covers Western Europe, Mesoamerica, North and West Africa, and parts of the North and South Americas, with alterations for playability.

This scenario contains some educational aspects that may help promote discussion on the development of overseas empires, the conquest of indigenous American civilizations, the exploitation of indigenous peoples and the development of the Atlantic slave trade. While the moral and social implications meant to be invoked by this game may not interest some gamers, it allows this to mod to potentially be a productive tool for opening up dialogue among people who might not otherwise recognize the modern consequences of these events.

All civs included are playable, including the two new ones, and numerous city-states were created and added just for this.  The map based on contemporary and more recent maps showing the geography, era-specific borders, resources and production locations. Resources, besides a few discrepancies noted in the readme, are balanced and located generally where they were during the time period. It’s also designed with certain historical events in mind, particularly wars in Italy, the slave trade, Portuguese invasions of Morocco, and constant competition between England, France, and Spain.  Further details along with background research are available in the ReadMe file.

Mod Overview

– 13 Playable Civs: Songhai, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, England, Netherlands, France, Venice, Quiche Maya, Incans, Aztecs, and custom civs the Tarascan Empire and the Papal State.

– significantly larger but geographically accurate representation of the Americas for larger competition.

– Atlantic Slave Trade option: by getting Open Borders with an African civ or an alliance with an African city-state, players can activate a significant boost to their colonial productivity.

– Play from 1492 to 1715.

– Atlantic ocean adapted to make travel lengthy while maintaining playability.

– New policy trees for the era: Renaissance, Monarchy, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, all with notable bonuses.

– Civ-specific religions, including Catholicism, Islam, Cult of Tlaloc etc.

– Players may chose the Reformation or start the Counter-Reformation

– 26 new city states covering Italy, Africa, and the Americas

– 2 new playable civs and leaders: Pope Alexander VI de Borgia of the Papal State, and Cazonci Zuangua of the Tarascan Empire.

– New units/buildings for those new civs: Pirinda Guards, Frontier Walls, Swiss Guards, and Franciscan Monastery

Important Notes Before Playing

-This is a Huge map, with 13 civilizations and 26 city-states.   We required a machine with 8 GB of RAM and an Intel i5 processor 2.0Ghz.  It’s highly suggested that players start with quick combat and quick movement both on.

-Some players’ systems might not be able to take the map size. If the game will not start on load, lower the graphic settings.  I suggest turning shadows and leader movies off first as they take up the most memory.

-To play the scenario as intended, make sure to use the 1492 map provided with the mod, and check “Load Scenario” when the map is chosen.

-Prince is the standard difficulty for this map, but we suggest playing on King or higher for experienced Civ V players.

-WARNING: Save the game immediately after starting then reload.  This is part of a known bug in Civ V that effects gameplay after conquering a city.  More details are available here,


After downloading from CivFanatics or Steam, be sure the entire mod folder is in your \Documents\My Games\Sid Meier’s Civilization 5\MODS directory and you’ll need to copy the map from the map folder to \Documents\My Games\Sid Meier’s Civilization 5\Maps.  You need to have both to play the full scenario.



1492 Aztecs

1492 Europe




Civ 5 Mod, Colonization of Africa historical scenario

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The Dickinson College Colonization of Africa mod for Civilization V, created by Shayna Solomon and Edwin Padilla and advised by Professor Ed Webb and Todd Bryant, aims to teach students the decision-making process of both colonial leaders and those leaders who resisted colonization. The game attempts to represent the starting conditions which were present at the start of the so-called “Scramble for Africa.” The game begins in 1876. We chose this year as the start of the game because it includes exploration as part of the Scramble, as well as representing the desire for conquest.

The game focuses on several aspects of society. The geography of Africa has been recreated in game to best represent the proportions of Africa. The game’s map also includes many of the physical barriers which would have limited units’ mobility, such as the Ituri rainforest, or offered defense for a civilization, such as Ethiopia’s defensive advantage of being surrounded by desert and mountains. These aspects of the game help students to understand the difficulty that nations faced when attempting to explore and conquer far outside of their territories. It will also help students to internalize the layout of Africa. Much of Western Europe is also portrayed in the game.

European geographic representation is less exact than that of Africa in part because Civ V dictates that a certain amount of land must be available to feed large populations. Advances in travel technology through modern roads and railroads is conveyed in the game and gives students a sense of the critical nature of this technology, especially in Europe.

The game also focuses on leaders’ differing ability to overcome obstacles and to expand and protect their empires. The comparative military power of each civilization has been ascertained by historical accounts of military size or of battles. The number of troops and their ability to obtain advanced weaponry indicates military strength in this game. Students will feel the major advantages that the English had over the Zulu or that the Ethiopians had in defending themselves against the Mahdi’s followers. They will also notice, however, that sheer numbers and military strategy can sometimes make up for the absence of advanced weaponry.

Other limits to power are money and public opinion. These are also conveyed in the game. Each nation receives 1% of its actual historical GDP in gold, the currency of the game, in order to represent the economic power of each nation. Students will notice that England, for instance, will have more leeway than Portugal in its ability to expand because of its economic strength. Low happiness in the game will cause revolt. This is particularly relevant historically to the recently unified Germany and Italy. Both countries, having not consolidated their power or authority, may be prevented from expanding if they do not make an effort to maintain their populations’ contentment.

There are some significant limits on the ability of the game to accurately represent our research. The first problem is that the game cannot represent chaos and confusion. It does not represent unpredictable weather or military units that fail to do as they are told. The game also cannot represent complex political configurations, like suzerainties. Finally, the game does not convey racism and intra-colony racial issues at all. In places like the British Cape Colony, these were essential to policy decisions.

Regardless of the limits, the game has valuable lessons to teach to students of international relations and of colonization. It shows many of the challenges of managing one’s affairs domestically while trying to expand or protect existing borders. It also teaches historical lessons about the challenges of power differentials during the colonization of Africa.

The mod is available for download on Civfanatics.  Screenshots are available below.  There is also an extensive ReadMe file detailing the research behind the project.






Motion Bubble Visualization

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Select your x axis, y axis, bubble size and set colors to unique. If we use homicides and GDP per capita, do we see a correlation of time. If so, the bubbles should move up and to the right, or down and to the left. Is there a reverse correlation? Do you see any patterns among different countries?

To create, we need the data formatted as so, Important, note how in the spreadsheet with all the data, there’s a space in population. Remove the spaces or Google won’t recognize it as a singe number. Choose three to five countries, and create a chart, then change countries by copy and pasting different data.

Once you have the data, create a Chart -> Trends -> Motion Chart

To export to put on a blog post, click the arrow in the top right of the chart and choose Publish.  Can paste that code into any html page or blog post.

Bubble Chart Tutorial

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Select your x axis, y axis, bubble size and set colors to unique. If we use # of immigrants and unemployment rate for each axis, we’d expect to find a correlation, so bubbles should move from lower left to upper right or the reverse. Is it true?

To create, we need the data formatted as so,

Choose countries that have data and create your own starting with a Google Docs spreadsheet

Can’t use date ranges in Google Docs, must provide an average year for each decade. We’re dividing decade totals of immigrants by 10 to get an average year. Also need average for unemployment

To speed up data entry, use Excel to add years in decade and divide by total to get average unemployment

To make for easier viewing select columns you don’t need, right click and hide in Excel

Will frequently encounter problems when using historical data. Consider Germany was divided. No unemployment rate given for China, so couldn’t use them. West German population is a guess for 1990 since reunified. No data for Mexico unemployment in the 1960s, found 1970 is 7.0, We can enter that in, or leave it out. If we leave it out, Mexico won’t appear until 1975 With all of these assumptions, it’s important to inform the reader.

Once you have the data, create a Chart -> Trends -> Motion Chart

To export to put on a blog post, click the arrow in the top right of the chart and choose Publish.  Can paste that code into any html page or blog post.