Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities

Small grant projects

The LUCDH has awarded some small research grants to foster the development of new digital research. We are sponsoring scholars to create databases, x-ray fragile letters, conduct text analysis, map historical information, and more. These projects began in February 2018 and awardees will be presenting their work at a symposium in the Fall of 2018.


Sander Stolk

Thesauri are lexicographic resources that organize words and word senses. One of their main uses is to look up available alternative phrasings, but thesauri offer a number of uses beyond that: they are veritable treasure troves for cultural, linguistic, anthropological, and literary-critical research. This is especially the case when such thesauri are arranged in a topical fashion, an ordering of all its groups of synonymous words according to their meaning. The current forms in which the majority of these thesauri are available make it difficult for scholars to use them to the fullest. In making existing historical thesauri available in a more suitable form for use and reuse, bringing them to the Semantic Web as Linked Data, this project aims to facilitate a wide variety of research that focusses on the vocabulary and culture of current and past times.

The proof of concept this project intends to deliver comes in the form of a web-based platform for historical thesauri that have been expressed in a Semantic Web form. With it, Stolk aims to demonstrate the added value of such a form for these thesauri. This novel platform should make it easier for users to access these thesauri, query them, filter them, and expand on them – a platform for which one need not be a computer scientist in order to utilize. This web-based platform will sport a user interface specifically for thesauri, able to display and browse them by recognizing the Linked Data terminology used for lexical concepts and lexical senses attributed to them. Furthermore, the platform needs to be fitted with an intuitive manner to formulate new queries based on historical thesauri content.

Which lexical items were available to Shakespeare? Which ones seem to have been restricted to poetry (possibly because they were considered archaic), and do such restrictions appear to have had an impact on the word choices Shakespeare made for his plays? Which words did the poet and playwright prefer over others that expressed the same notion? The added value of both the visualisation and querying mechanisms of the platform will be demonstrated by answering just such questions.

Liesbeth Claes

The use of numismatic sources is incorporated in Claes’s research project “Dialogues of Power”. This project aims to analyse the legitimising dialogue between Roman emperors and their Germanic legions during the so-called “crisis of the third century”. By doing so, this project will shed new light on how the loyalty of soldiers towards their emperors was established and which communication strategies emperors used to (re-)gain the political and military stability that ultimately helped to reunify the Roman Empire after the crisis.

Because imperial coinage is a direct vehicle for imperial communication, various messages, visual and verbal, could be disseminated by them. In the third century, silver coins still formed the major part of soldiers’ payments. This means that the imperial centre had an excellent tool to send messages addressing the military. For instance, messages of victories or trust in the army on these silver coins could flatter soldiers in order to win their loyalty.

The analysis of coin messages will be based on coin hoards, deposited between AD 180 and 285 in and near the military zone of the Lower Rhine limes, especially at the military camps in Germania Inferior. Although hoards often represent a random sample taken from circulation, hoard-based samples represent an untouched record from antiquity, providing information about the period in which the coins were used and deposited. Moreover, these coins from hoards give us additional information as opposed to single coin finds. The date of the youngest coins in a hoard give us a terminus post quem for the date at which coins stopped to be added to the hoard and the composition of a hoard can give us an idea about the date of the deposition of the coins, which may be different from the closing date. Most coins composing a hoard were probably withdrawn from circulation within a short space of time before the date at which the saving process ended. All in all, it can give us an idea when certain coin messages were disseminated. Additionally, hoards are found abundantly at the Empire’s northern border, and more importantly, the coins’ withdrawal from circulation was not related to the messages on them.

Lotte Fikkers

Manuscript collection WARD 16, held at The National Archives (Kew, UK), comprises 436 unopened letters and packages from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Based on the addresses on these letter bundles, in as far as these are still legible, it seems each letter contains legal pleadings (the textual by-product of legal proceedings, such as bills of complaint, answers, interrogatories, and depositions) sent to the Court of Wards and Liveries and the Court of Requests in London. It remains a mystery why these documents have never been opened. Opening up these manuscripts might solve this mystery, but has the disadvantage of being something that is irreversible: once opened, it is impossible to return the letter to its unopened state unharmed. Since the letter as artifact is worthy of attention and analysis in and of itself, opening these closed manuscripts is to be avoided. The Apocalypto team at the Dentistry Department at Queen Mary University of London has developed a technique that makes it possible to reveal the contents of a closed manuscript, without damaging or opening it. As such, the letter can be studied as artifact, while at the same time making it possible to reveal its hidden secrets.

The LUCDH’s small grant makes it possible to strike up a conversation between The National Archives, the Apocalypto team, and Leiden University, with the aim of x-raying a sample of manuscripts, and as such, making the unreadable readable.

Rizal Shidiq

I plan to develop a proof of concept for the long-run effect of government policy on ethnic-based inequalities. My specific research question is: Does Dutch colonial redistributive policy affect ethnic-based economic inequalities in contemporary Indonesia? My proposed research shares micro-level approach with standard analysis on inequalities but differs from the existing literature in the following way. First, it takes a long-run perspective back to the Dutch colonial administration days and, if feasible, even longer in the past. Second, it explicitly estimates the causal effects of redistributive policy on between-ethnics inequalities. Third, the focus is not only on the one-time effect but also on its persistence and durability. Fourth, it will generate and use a new digitized modern-standard dataset from old administrative records, in addition to present-day socio-economic and geographic information system (GIS) data, for the analysis.

In this proposed proof of concept development stage, I ask the following simple questions: Are household-level and/or village-level colonial administrative data in the last 19th and early 20th centuries available and accessible? If so, is it feasible to identify and reconstruct the variables of interest using text-mining and GIS procedures?  Is it also possible to identify relevant colonial redistributive policies and their actual implementation at household or village level? In other words, this project is akin to a feasibility study to assess whether the available data permits for digital-humanities pre-processing and further statistical causal inference estimation on certain level of units of analysis (either household- or village- or sub district-level).  If there is a positive result, I plan to scale up the project for a large-scale text-mining and GIS exercises to produce high-quality datasets that can be used for my and other interested researchers’ studies on the persistent effects of colonial policies on ethnic-inequalities and other socio-economic indicators.

Nicole van Os and Deniz Tat

This project aims at the digitalization and preparation for further analysis of approximately 550 letters written between 1954-1974 by a non-Muslim, non-Turkish single woman living in Istanbul to her niece in the Netherlands. These letters, which are written in a mixture of languages including French, English, Turkish and some Greek and Italian, are of interest to scholars of two separate disciplines: social historians and linguists. They are of interest to social historians, because they provide a unique insight into the multi-lingual environment of the Istanbulites belonging to minority groups during a period of political turmoil which made the lives of members of these groups much harder. They also provide us with detailed information about the (social) life of a single woman, working as a teacher, in a period that the position of women changed.

The letters are also of interest to linguists since the frequent code-switches between typologically distinct languages have structural, psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic implications. Frequent classical, or intra-sentential switches in these letters provide us with an opportunity to understand how a multilingual speaker exploits her ability to alternate, let’s say,  between Turkish, a scrambling SOV language with no grammatical gender, and English, an SVO language with relatively strict word order, or French, a language with grammatical gender. In this respect, it is a unique opportunity to shed light on how word-order, information structure, structural and inherent case, phi features (e.g. number, person and gender) are determined in code-switching.

After the initial digitalization of the handwritten letters, we will investigate the possibility of automatic detection of socio-historically relevant items in the corpus on the one hand and the automatic detection of code-switching, on the other hand. Moreover, we plan to develop a way to detect patterns by cross-referencing these two sets of data to determine how code-switching relates to different domains of life referred to in these letters.

Nira Wickramasinghe

The National Archives in London, Kew have made available (online) the slave registers that the British colonial government mandated in Sri Lanka/Ceylon between 1818-1832. The same database exists for 16 other slave colonies of the British including Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad.  In the case of Sri Lanka this data has never been collected or analyzed in a systematic way owing to the large number of entries. The proposed research entails in the first instant transcribing the 828 images in the slave registers on Jaffna (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1129)  onto excel sheets and creating an easily consultable database.  With this research I hope to create a data base of over 10 000 slaves that will contain such information as the name/gender of owner, the place of residence, name of slave (slaves in Jaffna unlike slaves brought from outside the island kept their names), gender of slave, age of slave, children of slave, date of manumission, other details (death for example).

This data once collected will be a unique source to reconstruct society in Jaffna, add complexity to our understanding of the structure of the caste system, produce insights into land ownership and labour  patterns according to produce (tobacco or palmyrah etc..)  It will also allow us on occasions to trace the lives of particular individuals, slaves or proprietors in the registers that I have encountered in my other archival source material, court cases or petitions. This project will feed into my on-going book project entitled ‘Slave in a Palanquin. Slavery and Resistance in an Indian Ocean Island’.

Limin Teh

This project investigates the role of industrial infrastructure in Northeast China in shaping the events and outcome of the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950). It asks:

  • How did the Chinese Nationalist Army lose the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950)?
  • Did the effect of variation of industrial infrastructure on military campaign make the Chinese Nationalist Army lose the Chinese Civil War?

In Northeast China, the industrial infrastructure— transportation network, electric grid, mining and manufacturing facilities, and urban built environment—was developed under Japanese control (1931-1945). After the fall of the Japanese empire in August 1945, the regional industrial infrastructure attracted the attention of postwar powers. The Soviet Union and the United States competed with each other to take over the region from Japan. The Soviet Red Army, which won the competition, removed large portions of the industrial infrastructure as they retreated in March 1946. The violent rivalry between the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists erupted here as they sought to seize control over the region. In spite of its overwhelming advantages in troop size and firepower, the Chinese Nationalist army unexpectedly lost to the Chinese Communist in 1948.

Historians generally agree that a correlation exists between the region’s industrial infrastructure and the Chinese Civil War, but rarely agree on the degree or nature of this correlation. This project seeks to illuminate this correlation between these two variables: the damaged industrial infrastructure and the logistical needs of military campaigns. It uses GIS to map out the spatial distribution of industrial infrastructure and military campaigns, and to analyze the spatial correlation between these two variables. In doing so, it aims to obtain a nuanced picture of the material conditions shaping the unfolding of this military event.

Carmen Parafita Couto

It is well known that bi-/multilinguals in some bi-/multilingual communities combine languages in the same sentence when they communicate with one another, known as code-switching. Most researchers agree that code-switching is not a random mix of languages, but that it is rule-governed. Recent work by members of our research team using different language pairs has established that, in general, multilingual speakers choose the morphosyntactic structure (word order and grammatical morphemes, making up the ‘matrix language’) of just one of their languages and insert words or phrases from their other language(s) into the selected frame (Parafita Couto et al. 2014; Parafita Couto & Gullberg, 2017). Although this pattern has been established in different bilingual communities, to our knowledge no previous study has examined in more detail the factors which determine the choice of the matrix language.

In this pilot study, we investigate the extent to which this choice is based on speaker characteristics as compared with community norms, while holding the language pair constant. As the first stage of a larger project involving cross-community study of comparable communities in other geographical locations, we focus on two Spanish/English bilingual communities, Miami (USA) and Gibraltar (Europe). The contexts of Miami and Gibraltar provide a clear contrast both in terms of geographical location and history. Data from both locations has already been collected in the form of natural speech conversation, and the Miami data has already been transcribed and coded (http://bangortalk.org.uk/). We will transcribe and code the Gibraltar data in a similar way to the Miami data in order to facilitate comparison between the two datasets. This will enable us to identify what the code-switching patterns in the two communities have in common and how they are different.

By focussing on only Spanish/English in different communities, we will be able to show to what extent the occurrence of a particular switching strategy may be traced to the influence of syntax/grammar and extralinguistic factors (e.g. social network, attitudes, etc.).

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