University College London
European history of the 19th century is often viewed through the prism of the rise of the European nation state, yet the history of European cities during this time provides a compelling transnational perspective on the processes which shaped this continent. In cities, the large scale economic, political and cultural developments of the time had the most profound impact and lastingly affected the structure and composition of modern European societies: rapid urbanization and industrialization, the democratization of the public sphere, changing political and social mores and norms – all these unfolded largely from the dynamics unleashed in major urban centres. Paris, London and, to a lesser degree, Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam come to mind as the premier European cities which stood as symbols of their countries’ economic, political and cultural achievement. Yet, while these cities were deeply implicated in processes of nation and empire building at the time, major cities have been historically always defined by the amount of transnational economic and cultural ties with other relevant world cities, rather than by their national context.
This trajectory has become ever more pronounced in the twentieth and twenty first century. Especially in the wake of the globalization discourse from the early 1990s onwards, the accent has shifted on assessing a city’s transnational connections as a marker of its relevance – the metropolis of the nineteenth century has become replaced by the ‘global’, or indeed the ‘networked’ city.
How then can we conceptualize this presumed interconnectedness of cities in a European context? Are debates around cities tied primarily to regional, national or transnational contexts? How are associations about cities as potential places of modernization and diversity created, and how do they become manifest in public discourse, such as newspapers?
To answer these questions, the possibilities afforded by large digitized newspaper corpora and a variety of text mining tools which ASYMENC utilizes, allow us to gain new insights into the perception of European cities in public debates, and to trace their connections.
In the first step, we extract place names and cities from a given corpus, measure frequency and distribution over specific timescales and visualize the findings. This ‘spatial’ approach to newspaper provides us with a ‘mental geography’ of Europe as the newspapers produced it. In addition, we gain insights into the level of interconnections that existed between cities and the extent of the ‘asymmetrical encounters’ between them.
A second step involves delving into the semantic level of the newspaper articles. What form of concepts and associations are associated with specific cities over time, to what degree do they remain stable, and at what point in time do they change or become superseded by new ones?
Finally, what are recurring patterns, which specific images and ideas about cities travel and become reiterated or reinterpreted abroad? By charting the dynamics of these debates in a transnational context, the aim is to provide a multifaceted view of how European imaginaries of cities becomes established, maintained – or jettisoned over time.