Social Production of Knowledge in the Enlightenment – Analytical Text and Network Discourse Reconstruction. The Halle Newspapers and Journals, 1688–1815
Project manager: Prof. Dr. Daniel Fulda
Researcher: Anne Purschwitz, MA.
Project team: Prof. Dr. Matthias Müller-Hannemann, PD. Dr. Alexander Hinneburg (Institut für Informatik der MLU)
Duration of project: in preparation
The project considers the functional mechanisms of the construction of knowledge based on the widest possible range of sources. A discourse reconstruction based on the Halle newspapers and journals will open up new perspectives on various discourses and their development and will allow comparisons between them with regard to the generation and transformation of knowledge.
Studies in the humanities that deal with issues of production and dissemination of knowledge through public discourse can usually only selectively grasp historical controversies, because the inventory of available digital sources has become too large for hermeneutical methods, and continues to grow. Previous studies therefore focus generally on a partial image of the production, representation, reception, and evaluation of knowledge in terms of the history of ideas. It would be more productive to analyse the functional mechanisms of the construction of knowledge based on the broadest possible and already available source base.
Combining Qualitative/Hermeneutic and Digital Methods
The proposed investigation intends to take up this challenge through an innovative use of both qualitative/hermeneutic and digital methods. The project has three core objectives: We will develop new methods that firstly, adequately take into account the complexity of historical sources, secondly, identify and categorize discursive patterns and thirdly, can be applied in practice and help interpret the development, processing and relevance of different types of knowledge in the Enlightenment.
Diversity of the Sources
The project will provide a computer-assisted systematic analysis of all 356 newspapers and journals published in Halle between 1688 and 1815, as well as information on all actors involved in the process. These data will be associated with already existing information on the demographic structure and on the economic, political and cultural contexts. Different groups of actors will be described comprehensively for the first time in terms of discursive, communicative and personal forms of knowledge through a microhistorical in-depth analysis.
The Pre-Modern Society of Knowledge
The study assumes that there was a “pre-modern society of knowledge”, for which analysis the periodical press of the Enlightenment as a source is particularly suited. Newspapers and journals closed a communicational and institutional gap, and formed a variable and open medium for different public discourses without thematic limitations.
Discourse Reconstruction – Text and Network Analysis – Discourse Comparison
The project intends to make three major contributions: Firstly, qualitatively, we go beyond the standard discourse analysis, by taking advantage of the abundance of available digital texts and information on networks for the reconstruction of Enlightenment discourses; secondly, these combined quantitative methods for text and network analysis make it possible to monitor the relevance of different actors directly in the discourses; thirdly, a reference system for the assessment and comparison of different discourses will be established, which scholarly research relating to the Enlightenment can use as a "general point of reference" (Kempf). In order to achieve this, the individual tasks - discourse reconstruction, discourse differentiation, discourse comparison and interpretation - will use specific qualitative and quantitative measurements. For this, we will develop, implement and evaluate innovative methods for network analysis as well as topics models. We will create an interactive, web-based analysis software and make it available as open source. A locally oriented model study, whose digital approach allows for extensions and additions will be conducted. All compiled metadata will be stored as part of the Historical Data Centre of Saxony-Anhalt and edited for future use. The developed software will provide an entirely new perspective on different discourses and their development and make possible comparisons with regard to the generation and transformation of knowledge.
The publication of the complete bibliography of all 356 Halle newspapers and journals is in preparation. In February 2016, a funding application was submitted to the Volkswagen Foundation together with Prof. Dr. Matthias Müller-Hannemann and PD. Dr. Alexander Hinneburg (Institute of computer science, MLU) in answer to the call for projects on "'Mixed Methods' in the humanities".