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Chronicling novelty. New knowledge in the Netherlands, 1500-1850

Leiden University / VU University Amsterdam – NWO project

Project leaders: Prof. dr. Judith Pollmann, dr. Erika Kuijpers

Researchers: Dr. Roser Morante, Dr. mr. Carolina Lenarduzzi

PhD candidates: Theo Dekker MSc MA, Alie Lassche MA

For innovation to happen it is not enough that new ideas and technologies are being invented. Cultural factors play an essential role in their acceptance and appropriation. Recent scholarship hypothesises that Europeans after 1650 became more receptive to new technology and innovation than their ancestors, and so enabled the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. The spread of new knowledge and techniques among scholars and specialists between 1500-1850 is indeed well-documented. Yet since acceptance by specialists does not guarantee wider acceptance, we will study how and to what effect, new knowledge actually anchored among the wider public.

This project focuses on the circulation and evaluation of new knowledge, ideas and technologies among a non-specialist public of middle-class authors in the Netherlands, who kept handwritten chronicles to record events and phenomena that they considered important. We develop a method to use them in large numbers and comparatively, so as to track and analyse the circulation, evaluation and acceptance of old and new ideas and information over time and spatially.

We will create a large high quality annotated corpus of texts, develop computational tools to trace patterns in topics, perspectives and appreciation of novelty and to alert us to passages that require further, qualitative analysis by close reading. In this way we will assess the circulation of new ideas, their reception, and the impact on attitudes to novelty and tradition in wider society.

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