How did the largest and cultural powerful countries like England, France, and Germany influence the public debates in smaller countries like The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg? Researchers of Utrecht University, Universität Trier and University College London will answer this question in the HERA research project ‘Asymmetrical Encounters: E-Humanity Approaches to Reference Cultures in Europe, 1815-1992’. The AsymEnc research project has received a grant of one million euros of HERA – Humanities in the European Research Area.

This project will explore the cultural aspects of European identity and how the reference cultures have changed between 1815-1992. The project members will use large volumes of textual materials, largely in the form of long runs of digitized newspapers, pamphlets etc., and apply multi-lingual text mining techniques to explore intercultural references across time and space.

The project will examine the role that transnational example cultures have played in the process of European integration between 1815 and 1992. The researchers will study the nature of the cultural exchange between major countries like England, France and Germany and smaller countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The project will explore case studies such as the public perception of the rapidly growing European metropolis, the spread of the commercial entertainment industry in the form of musicals, football and pop music, and the emergence of new consumer products such as ready-to-wear, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and pilsner beer.

Quantitative history of mentalities

Using innovative digital techniques researchers will mine and analyze large collections of digitized newspapers and magazines. The Library of the Netherlands in the Hague, the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de Luxembourg and other European libraries have made large repositories of digitized newspapers and periodicals available.

New techniques of text mining and sentiment mining now open the perspective of a quantitative approach to the history of mentalities. This allows the researchers to discover long-term developments and breakpoints in public debates, but also to map the vectors of cross-cultural influences. Unique for this HERA project is that text mining is now used on large multilingual text corpora.

Interdisciplinary consortium

The Principal Investigator and project leader is Prof. Joris van Eijnatten, Professor of Cultural History in the Faculty of Humanities of Utrecht University. The research project is carried out by an interdisciplinary consortium in which the University of Trier and University College London are participating. The daily management of the project is in the hands of Prof. Toine Pieters (Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities) and Dr. Jaap Verheul (Cultural History).