Current research

This research project focuses on emotional expressions referring to World War II in historical Dutch texts (1945-1989). The project’s aim is to question the long-term relationship between World War II and war legacies on the one hand and expressions of emotions in post war Dutch society on the other.

Courtyards with demonstrants. Photo: Unknown-Anefo, Nationaal Archief- licentie CC-BY

Researcher: Milan van Lange, MA
Supervisors: Prof. dr. ismee Tames, dr. Ralf Futselaar
Duration: 2016-2021
Intended publication: Dissertation, website, articles, papers, blogs
Cooperation: Utrecht University, SURFsara

More information

That emotions are closely linked to war and wartime experiences is widely acknowledged. It seems, therefore, unfair to state that emotions are an overlooked or forgotten category in World War II historiography. To date, however, the relationship between war and emotions is often explored within a framework in which certain specific, predefined emotions in relation to the wartime past have been key. In this project, emotional language itself is approached as an object of investigation by posing the following questions: Is World War II a more emotional subject in political and public discussions in the Netherlands than other contemporary matters? Which emotions were distinctive in political and public debates concerning World War II and its history? Do they change through time? And if so, how do they shift and change?

Coping and dealing with the emotional legacies of World War II is usually investigated with a focus on case studies or with a purely qualitative approach. I attempt answering these questions from a broader perspective by combining close reading with a more quantitative approach. The availability of sufficiently large digitized historical datasets and recent technological and methodological developments offer promising opportunities to subject emotions in relation to speaking about World War II to a fundamentally new assessment. This implies analysing large collections of digitized historical texts with digital analytical instruments.

It is an explicit ambition of the project to gain fresh insights into the applicability of modern, digital approaches to the analysis of historical texts. State of the art digital text and sentiment mining techniques will be explored, examined, applied and evaluated. I wish 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 and media coverage of World War II in the Netherlands. This research project can thus be considered as a proof of concept.

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

  • Gain more insights into emotions and expressions of emotions in public and political language, 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 research methodology.

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