Time will tell a different story

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.’ Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 121-180 AD)

Historic research has gone through significant changes over time, in an effort to produce the most objective presentations of the past. Facts may remain the same, but perspectives in the way historians describe people and events change. Historians used to write about divine interventions, kings and battles, but they now also concentrate on topics like slaves, the history of medicine and the development of farming. The angle of analysis evolves hand in hand with the change of time, society and public opinion. It is not uncommon for example, that a Dutch governor could be considered a hero in the nineteenth century and now is considered to be a war criminal.

In this project, two student assistants will investigate how these changes can be traced in historic text. They will combine expertise in historiography (research on how historians write their work) and computational linguistics to see what patterns can be observed comparing texts from different epochs. They will address the following research questions:

1. How is the historian’s perspective reflected in historic text?

2. What changes in perspectives can be observed in texts from different epochs?

These questions will be addressed using data from the Biography Portal of the Netherlands, a heterogeneous dataset describing approximately 76,000 people in 125,000 biographies. In particular, there are two large resources from the late 19th and early 20th century where we find examples that illustrate increased awareness on the lot of local inhabitants of former Dutch colonies throughout time. Differences in topics, vocabulary and how people are presented will be used to illustrate change in perspective. This project uses data and tools from the BiographyNet project.

For a further description of the project, please visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/loce0bd59pc119a/%2816%29%20Proposal-Time-will-tell-a-different-story-1.pdf?dl=0