Moving beyond Ctrl-F- Cultural Text Mining and other Digital Utopias - New Trends in eHumanities

Jaap Verheul, Utrecht University


April 24, 2014


Moving beyond Ctrl-F: Cultural Text Mining and other Digital Utopia’s

This talk will explore the many possibilities – and some limitations — of digital humanities from the perspective of cultural history. It will explore how the different conceptual questions that cultural historians have tried to address each require and invite very distinctive computational approaches. To complicate things further, cultural historians have employed radically different definitions of culture, from Matthew Arnold’s universalist and hierarchical “sweetness and light” to the poststructuralist dissections of language and power after the cultural turn. This changing cultural epistemology has exploded the traditional field of cultural history into a multidisciplinary array of humanities disciplines that explore cultural phenomena in the history of human development, each framing innovative and urgent research questions. Using the two ongoing research projects NWO-Translantis and HERA-Asymmetrical Encounters, we will explore a few of those new directions. One of the most promising directions is the development beyond the keyword-oriented heuristics — that is sometimes disrespectfully dubbed Ctrl-F 1.0 — in the direction of a deeper mining for meaning. This digital humanities methodology of Cultural Text Mining explores changes in concepts and cultural “texts” that people have used to give meaning to the world around them. One of the challenges of Cultural Text Mining that lay ahead of us, is to use multi-lingual and multi-media repositories to map significant changes and continuities in human discourse. This opens up the possibility to explore the way cultures have perceived and influenced each other, by mapping and confronting changes and continuities in trans-national repositories. Digital humanities should explore what are the right tools for these tasks, and which additional tools need to be developed to realize these and other digital utopias.


Jaap Verheul is Associate Professor of History at Utrecht University. Together with Toine Pieters he is project leader of a number of digital humanities reserach projects, including ”Translantis:  Digital Humanities Approaches to Reference Cultures; The Emergence of the United States in Public Discourse in the Netherlands, 1890-1990” (funded by a NWO-Horizon grant) and ”Asymmetrical Encounters: Digital Humanities Approaches to Reference Cultures in Europe, 1815–1992”(AsymEnc, funded by HERA). Verheul was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and has taught at UCLA and other American universities. His current research interest is in digital humanities, transatlantic history, and American perceptions of Europe. He has published on Dutch and American cultural history, and on business history. He edited Dreams of Paradise, Visions of Apocalypse: Utopia and Dystopia in American Culture (VU University Press, 2004) and co-edited American Multiculturalism after 9/11: Transatlantic Perspectives (Amsterdam University Press, 2009) and Discovering the Dutch: On Culture and Society of the Netherlands (Amsterdam University Press, 2014).