New project in collaboration with Uppsala University – textometry and topic modelling

Ben Martin, History of ideas, Uppsala University has been granted a project on ”The Culture of International Society: How Europe’s Cultural Treaties Forged a Global Concept of Culture, 1919-1968”. Martin is working in close collaboration with Humlab for analysing the material. Humlab is part of developing tools and methods for data retrieving and analysis.

From the description:

Martin will examine the historical emergence of a global concept of culture in the twentieth century by analyzing a rich and largely untapped source: cultural treaties between states. That culture can be used to legitimate power is well established. This is also the case in international relations, where contrasting ideas about “culture”–cosmopolitan versus nationalist visions, for example–have been used to justify systems of domination over states and peoples. An anti-racist consensus on the equal value of the world’s cultures is a premise of today’s post-colonial world order. But where did that concept of culture come from and how did it win out over rival visions, above all the notion of “Civilization” associated with European imperialism? How are such global concepts formed and disseminated? Cultural treaties–legally binding agreements on what forms of culture shall be exchanged between two or more nation-states–offer a good source for a historical investigation of these questions. They illustrate how states agree on what culture is, what culture can and should do, and to what degree states should promote or regulate it. Through a comparative, multi-method study of the cultural treaties of several Western European states from 1919 to 1968, my project explores the emergence of a global concept of culture, based on the hypothesis that this concept, in contrast to earlier ideas of civilization, played a key role in the consolidation of the modern international order.

Working in close cooperation with digital humanities specialists at Umeå University’s Humlab, Martin will explore the source material offered by these treaties by approaching it as two distinct data sets. First, to chart the emergence of an international system of cultural treaties, they will use quantitative analysis of the basic information, or “metadata” (countries, date, topic) from the complete set of cultural treaties. Their analysis of this data will identify historical trends in the emergence of a global network of bilateral cultural treaties and to compare that to the global webs established by multilateral agreements. Second, to identify the development of concepts, they will observe the changing use of key terms through quantitative analysis of the content of these treaties. By treating a group of cultural treaties (from Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, between 1919 and 1968) as a single data set (or text corpus), they will be able explore the treaties using textometry (the statistical analysis of lexical data) and topic modeling—the computer-assisted analysis of the frequency of and interrelations among key terms in large groups of texts. Topic modeling will identify which key areas of cultural activity were regulated by the treaties over time and by world region. Third, to see and compare the transnational networks forged by these agreements, they will link data from the text and metadata analyses to map coordinates via geographical information systems (GIS), creating historical maps to reveal patterns and simultaneous developments better than historical narrative can. Finally, to determine which treaties were most copied, and to isolate elements that rendered some more successful than others, they will create evolutionary visual models, what Franco Moretti calls “trees”, that chart the preservation or elimination of key features of the treaties over time. Humlab will provide technical assistance in curating data, methodological development, text analysis, network analysis, and the use of GIS and other mapping and visualization technologies.

About Stefan G

I Second life är jag mer känd som Dexter Sweetwater.
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