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Demonstration against possible amnesty for Willy Lages, organized by Lages Comite Amsterdam Date 12 October 1952 (source: GaHetNa (National Archives NL) 905-3553)

Emotional Imprints

A Computer-assisted Analysis of War-related Emotions in Dutch Parliamentary Debates, 1945–1989
This research project focuses on the role of emotions in the post-war parliamentary dealing (1945-1989) with the consequences of the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. The project’s aim is to approach the role of emotions in the post-war dealing with consequences of the war with a computer-assisted approach to large-scale digitized historical sources.

Duration: 2016-2021

Partnership: Utrecht University, SURFsara

That emotions are closely linked to war and wartime experiences is widely acknowledged. When it comes to a deeper understanding of the role of emotions in dealing with the consequences of the war, however, there is still much unknown. 

Emotions are often dealt with in historiography as a side note, and  rather strong presumptions seem to exist about how emotions played a role in dealing with consequences of the war, and how this changed over the course of time. Emotions seem to be central to periodizations regarding the national (or ‘official’) post-war dealing with the consequences of the war: after much attention immediately after 1945, the 1950s were a period of silence and concealment, as they were followed by what has been described in literature as a period of ‘emancipation of emotions’ in the 1970s. The development in this latter period is, in the relevant historiography, generally linked to the development of elaborate national welfare legislation.

In this project, emotional language use in the verbatim minutes of Dutch parliament is approached as an object of investigation to learn more about the relationship between emotions and the national dealing with the consequences of the war in the 1945-1989 period.

This raises, in the first place, substantive historical questions, such as: was there a role for emotions in the post-war parliamentary dealing with the consequences of the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II? What was this role? And how did this develop over time? Was there, as is suggested in literature, a period of silence and concealment of emotional expressions that was followed by a phase of so-called emancipation of emotions? 

Secondly, these issues also raise questions that are of a more epistemological and methodological nature: how can historical researchers know these things? How can historians grasp manifestations of emotionality in historical sources? How can they make and support claims regarding changing emotionality over time? 

The project ‘War and Emotions’ has an explicit focus on historiographical practices and research methodology.  The availability of sufficiently large digitized historical datasets and recent technological and methodological developments offer promising opportunities to subject emotions in relation to discussing dealing with the consequences of World War II to a fundamentally new assessment. The use of computer-assisted, quantitative text analysis is evaluated and confronted with a more traditional, historiographical approach of close reading of the sources. 

It is an explicit ambition of the project to gain a better understanding of the applicability of computer-assisted quantitative  approaches to the analysis of historical texts. State of the art digital text and sentiment mining techniques will be explored, examined, applied and evaluated.The project aims to make a useful addition to the historian’s toolbox by examining these techniques’ ability to grasp emotional expressions and related concepts in political debates. 

To summarize, this research project aims to make three distinct contributions to historiography:

  • Gain more insights into the role of emotions and expressions of emotions in parliamentary debate (1945-1989), especially in a World War II-related context;
  • To contribute to a better understanding of the position of the war and wartime experiences in a post war Dutch society and to question common assumptions about, for example, the ‘silence’ of the 1950s or the ‘emancipation of emotions’ in the 1970s;
  • A proof of concept in digital and quantitative historical research methodology.

This research project is based at the NIOD and Utrecht University.


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