Nation-Building and Digital History

Chair: Eva Pfanzelter (Innsbruck)

15:30–17:00, Virtueller Konferenzraum 2

While archives of newspapers have been central sources for historians, a more versatile use of them was often obstructed by the sheer size of the material. Only recently have they been transformed into digital sources readily available to everybody. For historians studying mass phenomena, mass media such as daily newspapers can be of enormous value. With these remarkable new possibilities for humanities researchers, we apply digital methods to large corpora of newspapers, allowing us to study one of the biggest mass-based phenomena of the 19th and 20th centuries: the emergence of nations and nationalism. Aided by newspapers and the discourses contained therein, the nation was “imagined” by the people in a process where millions of citizens read the same articles at the same time every day, in an act described by Hegel as a substitute for morning prayers. Our panel studies the enormous power of newspapers in this regard, and in which ways newspapers influenced ideas and images of nations and connected concepts and issues.

Imagining the Nation and the World. The Concept of “The Foreign” in Dutch Newspapers 1815–1914

Ruben Ros (Utrecht)

The paper studies the concept of buitenland (“the foreign”) in a broad sample of Dutch newspapers in the period 1815–1914. It shows how the concept of the foreign changed semantically, and how this change was part of nation-building and nationalism, but also contributed to the imagining of an interconnected and global space. The paper hereby connects the history of nations as ‘imagined communities’ and the history of globalization as a process of spatial reconfiguration. The paper shows how a complex web of meanings and associations attached themselves to buitenland, leading to new ideas about a foreign, international or even global space. Considering the frequent use of buitenland in Dutch newspapers, this paper takes a computational approach to conceptual change. It makes use of established frequency-based methods, as well as state-of-the-art language modelling to map the semantic change of the concept.

The Expansion of the National Imaginary in the Long Nineteenth Century

Jani Marjanen (Helsinki)

The paper studies the process in which the nation became a self-evident frame for understanding society. Relying on theories of Begriffsgeschichte and new methods from digital history, it uses newspapers from Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland to study how conceptualizing different aspects of society as ‘national’ expanded from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. It first covers changes in the frequency of the adjective attribute ‘national’ and the noun ‘nation’. Second, it examines changes in the vocabulary relating to ‘national’ to assess which spheres of life were conceptualized as national. Third, it uses word embeddings to cluster the different topics relating to national to better visualize two processes: politicization and culturalization of nation. In a concluding discussion the paper suggests different key moments in Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, in which the language of nationhood changed.

Building the Austrian Nation in the Press. The Immediate Aftermath of World War II

Stefan Hechl (Innsbruck)

This paper studies the role of newspapers in the process of building an Austrian “nation” after the Second World War. Drawing on Eric Hobsbawm’s and Benedict Anderson’s theories of nation and nationalism and working with a large corpus of newspapers from across the political spectrum, digital methods for large-scale text analysis (frequency analyses, topic modelling, etc.) are utilised to identify important topics and discourses as well as linguistic peculiarities of Austrian nationhood. The paper attempts to link language use in regard to ideological “buzzwords” and politically “loaded” terms with the theory of political framing (cf. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling). The analysis shows that while the journalistic debate on nationhood and its main aspects was broadly consensual between different political backgrounds, papers on both the left and the right utilised political framing to mould the emerging Austrian nation according to their ideology.


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