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Charting the ’Culture’ of Cultural Treaties: Digital Humanities approaches to the history of international ideas
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of History of Science and Ideas.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3180-2973
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Cultural treaties are the bi-lateral or sometimes multilateral agreements among states that promote and regulate cooperation and exchange in the fields of life we call cultural or intellectual. Pioneered by France just after World War I, this type of treaty represents a distinctive technology of modern international relations, a tool in the toolkit of public diplomacy, a vector of “soft power.” One goal of a comparative examination of these treaties is to locate them in the history of public diplomacy and in the broader history of culture and power in the international arena. But these treaties can also serve as sources for the study of what the historian David Armitage has called “the intellectual history of the international.” In this project, I use digital humanities methods to approach cultural treaties as a historical source with which to explore the emergence of a global concept of culture in the twentieth century. Specifically, the project will investigate the hypothesis that the culture concept, in contrast to earlier ideas of civilization, played a key role in the consolidation of the post-World War II international order.

I approach the topic by charting how concepts of culture were given form in the system of international treaties between 1919 (when the first such treaty was signed) and 1972 (when UNESCO’s Convention on cultural heritage marked the “arrival” of a global embrace of the culture concept), studying them with the large-scale, quantitative methods of the digital humanities, as well as with the tools of textual and conceptual analysis associated with the study of intellectual history. In my paper for DH Nordic 2018, I will outline the topic, goals, and methods of the project, focusing on the ways we (that is, my colleagues at Umeå University’s HUMlab and I) seek to apply DH approaches to this study of global intellectual history.

The project uses computer-assisted quantitative analysis to analyze and visualize how cultural treaties contributed to the spread of cultural concepts and to the development of transnational cultural networks. We explore the source material offered by these treaties by approaching it as two distinct data sets. First, to chart the emergence of an international system of cultural treaties, we use quantitative analysis of the basic information, or “metadata” (countries, date, topic) from the complete set of treaties on cultural matters between 1919 and 1972, approximately 1250 documents. Our source for this information is the World Treaty Index (www.worldtreatyindex.com). This data can also help identify historical patterns in the emergence of a global network of bilateral cultural treaties. Once mapped, these networks will allow me to pose interesting questions by comparing them to any number of other transnational systems. How, for example, does the map of cultural agreements compare to that of trade treaties, military alliances, or to the transnational flows of cultural goods, capital, or migrants?

Second, to identify the development of concepts, we will observe the changing use of key terms through quantitative analysis of the treaty texts. By treating a large group of cultural treaties as several distinct text corpora and, perhaps, as a single text corpus, we will be able explore the treaties using textometry and topic modeling. The treaty texts (digital versions of most which can be found online) will be limited to four subsets: a) Britain, France, and Italy, 1919-1972; b) India, 1947-1972; c) the German Reich (1919-1945) and the two German successor states (1949-1972); and d) UNESCO’s multilateral conventions (1945-1972). This selection is designed to approach a global perspective while taking into account practical factors, such as language and accessibility. Our use of text analysis seeks (a) to offer insight into the changing usage and meanings of concepts like “culture” and “civilization”; (b) to identify which key areas of cultural activity were regulated by the treaties over time and by world region; and (c) to clarify whether “culture” was used in a broad, anthropological sense, or in a narrower sense to refer to the realm of arts, music, and literature. This aspect of the project raises interesting challenges, for example regarding how best to manipulate a multi-lingual text corpus (with texts in English, French, and German, at least).

In these ways, the project seeks to contribute to our understanding of how the concept of culture that guides today’s international society developed. It also explores how digital tools can help us ask (and eventually answer) questions in the field of global intellectual history.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
Keyword [en]
culture concept, international society, digital humanities, intellectual history
National Category
History Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
Research subject
History of Sciences and Ideas
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-346775OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-346775DiVA, id: diva2:1192157
Conference
Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries, 3rd Conference (7-9 March 2018, Helsinki)
Projects
The Culture of International Relations (funded by Riksbankens jubileumsfond, 2017-2020)
Funder
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P16-0900:1
Available from: 2018-03-21 Created: 2018-03-21 Last updated: 2018-04-19Bibliographically approved

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Martin, Benjamin George

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