Student Research Internship at Helsinki Computational History Group

Aline Nünninghoff joined Helsinki Computational History Group for student research internship for Autumn 2020. Despite of the covid-19 challenges Aline's case provides a useful example how a student project can be integrated as part of digital humanities research workflow. We aimed to treat Aline and her work as one of the group. This blog post functions as proof that Aline's time was spent well in Helsinki! Her internship was also useful for our collaborative work in our new Academy of Finland project, "Rise of Commercial Society and Eighteenth-Century Publishing".


After graduating with a BA in English Studies from the University of Frankfurt, I applied to the master’s program in digital humanities at the University of Mainz. I have been at the University of Mainz since October 2019 now and focused my studies on English linguistics and language change. As part of my MA program, I had to participate in a three-month research internship at an institute which uses digital research methods for humanistic research. Due to my background in linguistics and language change, I was looking for an institution which provided the opportunity to work in this field of study. However, as I only focused on contemporary language change so far, I hoped to find an institution where I could broaden my knowledge to historical sociolinguistics and study language change in history. The Computational History Group at Helsinki University (COMHIS) was the perfect fit for my aims because the group is an interdisciplinary team of researchers who focus on the study of public discourse and knowledge production that combines metadata from library catalogues and full-text databases of all sorts of texts in Early Modern Europe.

After I contacted the PI of Helsinki Computational History Group, I was invited to work with the research group on their ongoing research project named Rise of commercial society and eighteenth-century publishing. The project studies eighteenth century print media and publishing networks which lead to the rise of a public discourse and a commercial society in the Early Modern Anglophone world.

My research interests

The development of a public discourse caused by the establishment of publishing networks and print media, is especially interesting in Early Modern England because the increasingly literate public at that time, led to an increasing book production. Therefore, Early Modern English times belong to the earliest periods from which corpora of printed texts of the English language can be created (Görlach 6). Additionally, increasing book production indicates cultural change. Cultural changes such as the emergence of print media are commonly related to a lexical change, because all developments whether they are cultural, social or technological, require the emergence of new words in order to discuss them. For instance, the word social media first emerged in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1994 ( and occurred out of a need to name a new technological invention that caused a major change in human communication and networking. However, as the society develops constantly, the meanings of words may change over time, too. The meaning of the word computer, for example, changed over time as it was understood as a tool to enhance human intelligence in the 1990’s. Today a computer is rather considered as a medium of communication (Reichert 26-27). Hence, the way we use language and denote meaning to words, permanently varies and is based on our social, cultural and technological surrounding. The connection between language change and the developments of a society, is a linguistic phenomenon which interests me the most.

My Research Project

Due to my research interest and the cultural changes in Early Modern England which were indicated with the increasing book production, my research aim for this project was to identify whether societal changes are reflected in the public discourse of Early Modern Anglophone print media. As new words occur with societal, cultural and technological changes, I focused my analysis on the emergence of neologisms in Early Modern Anglophone print media. To have higher chances to identify neologisms of that time, I first looked for new word occurrences in letters that are enclosed in the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC 1402-1800). The Corpus of Early English Correspondence was designed to aid historical sociolinguistics and includes published editions of private letters (Lijffijt et al. 32). The corpus encloses about five million running words and is hence a rather small corpus compared to corpora of published texts. Yet, looking for new word occurrences in letters rather than in published texts, may get more evidence for which social groups used neologisms. In the corpus of private writing, not only well-educated men are included but a representation of a wider section of population is ensured as women and other social classes are included too.

During my research, I identified several neologisms occurring in letters between 1600-1800. One of the neologisms I came across, was the word parliamentary. With respect to my research aim, this word was interesting, because it is associated with the term democracy. A democratic political system was not common during Early Modern times in England. As this word hinted to a cultural change that influenced the language, I decided to solely base further research on the word parliamentary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word parliamentary was known by the dictionary editors to be first used in 1616. Therefore, the term must have been coined at some time during the 17th century. To focus on newer uses and the origins of the word parliamentary, I looked at the development of the word in the Early English Books Online dataset (EEBO henceforth) between 1600 to 1700. The dataset includes digitized versions of almost every English work printed between 1470-1700 (Early English Books Online However, for my analysis I used a modified version of the database, namely the EEBO-TCP database. The EEBO-TCP database, where TCP stands for text creation partnership, is a cleaned-up text version of the EEBO database that contains approximately 1,4 billion words. The modified version of the database furthermore includes metadata from the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) as the COMHIS group matched and harmonized ESTC metadata to the full-text sources of EEBO in order to make reliable metadata analyses.


To gain a more fine-grained understanding of social embeddings and the use of neologism in CEEC and EEBO, the study was divided into a metadata analysis and a text mining analysis. While the text mining analysis was conducted with full-text sources available in the respective databases, the metadata analysis was conducted with metadata of the ESTC that was mapped to the respective databases by the COMHIS group. The metadata analysis, which was based on frequency and performed with the programming language R, helped to detect societal changes as social ranks, backgrounds, and environments of authors using the word parliamentary were identified. Furthermore, social changes were analyzed by the number of topics written about in connection to the word parliamentary.

By means of the text mining analysis, word clouds and keywords were identified which helped to examine the context in which the word parliamentary was used. The findings of the text mining analysis were mapped to the results of the metadata analysis and helped to decide whether societal changes are reflected in the language of Early Modern Anglophone print media. Just like the metadata analysis, the word cloud analysis was also conducted with the programming language R. However, the keyword analysis was done with AntConc, the toolkit for text analysis. While the word clouds for the text mining analysis were based on frequency with stop words removed, the keyword analysis was based on keyness measure showing words that were used significantly more in one dataset compared to another.

Letters with the word parliamentary in ceec

In the timeframe of 1600 to 1700, only nine letters including the word parliamentary were enclosed in the CEEC database. Due to these few findings, no representative results but only trends could be recognized. Figure 1 reveals the social ranks of authors using the word parliamentary in their letters. The figure shows that senders with the social status “gentry lower” have mainly used the term parliamentary between 1600-1700. Interestingly, the letter-senders were all connected to either politics and/or religion. Thomas Dixon for instance, author of the letter FLEMING_081, was a Presbyterian minister and college teacher (Gordon, “Dixon, Thomas”). Matthew Hutton, on the other hand who was the author of the letter HUTTON_073, was the Archbishop of York (Cross, “Hutton, Matthew”).

Publications with the word parliamentary in EEBO


Contrary to the CEEC database, the EEBO database encloses 1767 publications between 1600 to 1700 that include the word parliamentary. Most of the publications were published between 1640 and 1670 (see Figure 2).






Because the graph shows that the word parliamentary was already part of a public discourse by 1640, I focused my study on the instances before 1640 to identify how the word was coined. Due to insufficient data, the CEEC dataset was not considered to any further extent.

Geographic domains of publishing in EEBO (1600-1639)

By means of the metadata analysis, three geographic domains were revealed in which books, pamphlets and newspapers including the word parliamentary were published between 1600-1639. The domains were Amsterdam, London and Oxford (Figure 3). Interestingly, publications appearing in Oxford and London were mainly written by Aristocratic authors and books published in Amsterdam were written by Puritan authors. As Puritans and Aristocrats led the English Civil War which started in 1640 (Hill et al. 215), authors of the EEBO database using the word parliamentary were connected to politics and religion just like the authors of the CEEC database.  Additionally, the number of instances in which the word parliamentary was used rose significantly with the start of the English Civil War. These two findings already lead to the conclusion that the emergence of the word parliamentary is connected to a societal change in early 17th century.





Two opposing political parties

Two opposing political parties using the word parliamentary were hence represented in 17th century Anglophone discourse, the Aristocrats and the Puritans. While the Aristocrats were the leading Catholic political power in Early Modern England and believed in the compatibility of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, Puritans wanted a more Protestant but also democratic government and demanded an overall state control of religious matters (Davies, "Laudianism").

To illustrate that the emergence of the word parliamentary was connected to a societal change, publications from Amsterdam were contrasted with publications from Oxford. Publications from Oxford were chosen rather than publications from London to ensure comparability in regard to the number of publications. A total of 19 books including the word parliamentary was published in London between 1600-1639, whereas only seven books were published in Oxford and six in Amsterdam. The books published in Oxford and Amsterdam represent the different views and opinions of two opposing political parties and shaped Early Modern Anglophone print media. Therefore, the comparison of the Amsterdam and Oxford publications is supposed to show that societal changes influence public discourse and contribute to language changes.

Pioneers of the english civil war

The Puritan’s publication place in Amsterdam already indicates societal upheaval in England. Members of the Puritan party were forced to publish their books outside of England due to their opposing attitude towards 17th century politics in England (Robertson 31). As religious controversialists who offered resistance against the political system in the 17th century, they had already been imprisoned for sedition in England and were furthermore on trial for the same allegations. The allegations were made because of earlier anti-government publications in England (Lamont, “Prynne, William”). In prison, authors challenging Aristocracy were tortured and punished as some parts of their faces were cut off (Lamont, “Prynne, William”). By means of these findings, it can be assumed that the six authors publishing in Amsterdam, namely William Ames, Henry Burton, James Henric, Alexander Leighton, William Prynne and Sir Theophilus, were pioneers of the English Civil War. Despite their imprisonments and the tortures they underwent in prison, they continued to rebel against the existing political system in England in early 17th century by publishing in a different country. The authors’ resistance and their willingness to maintain media attention did not only lead to greater public awareness, but also forced political dissent in public discourse which later led to the English Civil War.

Increase in Number of topics of the publications

The achievement of the government opponents to maintain media attention in Early Modern Anglophone print media, despite censorship laws in England, challenged the right for freedom of speech in England. The number of topics written about between 1600-1639 that were identified from the metadata analysis, is highest in the 1630’s just when the number of published books in the Netherlands is highest (see Figure 3). While books were mainly published about religion in the beginning of the 17th century, books about religion, history, geography, and social science were published in the 1630’s.  









Religion/History/Geography/Social Science

Table 1: Topics that are written about in the published books including the word parliamentary.

Due to the correlation between the number of topics written about and number of books published in Amsterdam, it can be assumed that the political opponents successfully challenged the political system in England and thereby caused an ideological change which led to the discussion of several topics. The development of this ideological change is furthermore revealed in the emergence of the unregulated market of print in England with the beginning of the Civil War in 1640 (Robertson 44). With the start of the unregulated market of print in England, the number of publications in Amsterdam of English writers decreased drastically and did not rise again until a further censorship on anti-government books was introduced again.

Societal changes reflected in language

As soon as the main societal changes were detected which led to the occurrence of the word parliamentary in the public discourse of Early Modern Anglophone print media, I started to analyze whether these societal changes are reflected in the language of Early Modern Anglophone print media.

The text mining and keyword analyses demonstrated that the political opinions of the respective political parties are reflected in the language used in their publications. The omnipresence of God is recognizable in the Puritan’s language and the idea to support the power of men in the Aristocrat’s language. While the language of the Puritans is rather connected to spiritualities, the language of the Aristocrats is rather connected to life on earth. Additionally, the texts of the Puritans have a rebellious nature as they include offensive language to describe the political system at that time. In opposition, the texts of the Aristocrats include contemptuous language to describe the rebellious character of the Puritans. Finally, as political rivals, Aristocrats used anti-democratic language, whereas Puritans used democratic language. 

Omnipresence of god vs. manpower

The two word clouds from the text mining analysis which were created by means of the full-text sources of the Amsterdam and Oxford publications, each describe the publication’s most common words. As God, king, men, people, and church were the most frequent words in the Oxford publications, the Aristocrats’ beliefs in regard to the compatibility of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will become apparent. Equally, the Presbyterian world views are mirrored in the most common words among the Amsterdam publications. The belief in the sovereignty of God with respect to an overall state control of religious matters is reflected in the words God, ceremony, altar, church, and



Spiritualities vs. life on earth

The keyword analysis revealed similar results, especially for the Amsterdam publications. Here, the words are almost identical to the ones in the word cloud (see Table 2) and have a strong connection to religion. The words for the Oxford publications differ from the word cloud, but the author’s aristocratic views become evident, nevertheless, as the listed keywords are rather connected with life on earth and not with spiritualities. Common keywords are Empire and Kingdom, as well as Emperor and Dukes. Each word refers to the idea that men (at least noble men) are able to rule the country with their own free will, despite the sovereignty of God. The word Empires, for instance, refers “to a group of countries or states that are controlled by one leader or government” ( and the word Dukes refers to “noblemen of the highest rank” (











































Table 2: Keywords for Amsterdam Publications and Oxford Publications.

Puritan’s offensive language

The keyword analysis as well as the word cloud for the Amsterdam publications additionally show the occurrence of the words popish and papists. While the word popish simply describes “somebody/something connected with Roman Catholicism", the word papist is “an offensive word for a Roman Catholic, used by some Protestants” ( The offensive reference to Catholicism, demonstrates the Puritan’s oppositional character in Early Modern English politics. The Puritan’s oppositional character is furthermore portrayed in the immediate context of the word parliamentary in Henric James’ book “The curtaine of Church-povver and authoritie in things called indifferent“. As the Aristocrats rejected the Puritan’s demand to establish a democratic parliament, Henric James maintained that Aristocrats did not agree to have parliamentary power because of fear of losing their own position of power

Some have pretended, that it is good policy to uphold the Hierarchy; for say they, no Bishop, no King; there must be order in the Church, and Bishops are they that preserve it. This is that bulwark which they used to beat off all just complaints, and save themselves, their cause, their friends and followers, such as the Duke, the Appealer, and Cousens, from the parliamentary power(James, “The curtaine of Church-povver and authoritie in things called indifferent“).

Aristocrat’s contemptuous language

Contrarily, Aristocrats compared parliamentary power, but rather democracy in general, as an act comparable to adolescences. The Aristocratic author Calubyte Downing claimed that democratic power is rebellious and that it causes nothing but sedition in an ancient state with a stable monarchy

"And for the Democraticall discipline, there was great and certaine danger [], for it could not possibly be conceived to be received, but with a schismaticall sedition, since it was approved but by a faction. Now doe but consider, how dangerous seditions are in an ancient kingdome; if it were now a settling, happily the vigour of youth would beare it out, as one maine reason []why the Roman Monarchy was not ruined by those foure first grand seditions, was because it was but secunda aetas, & quasi adolescentia: But when a State is growing old, seditions are desperate courses to procure changes, though it be for the best. For though the events of them be but doubtfull, yet the deciding-place is certaine of losse(Downing, “A discourse of the state ecclesiasticall of this kingdome, in relation to the civill”).

Furthermore, Downing said that Christian magistrates are “to repair for justice” and that the “government by popular Prsbyterie [..]” is not for the state of England (“A discourse of the state ecclesiasticall of this kingdome, in relation to the civill”). Therefore, he argued not to establish a democratic system but maintain an aristocratic one which is ruled by bishops and priests only. In a later paragraph of his book “A discourse of the state ecclesiasticall of this kingdome, in relation to the civill”, Downing concluded that Aristocracy combined with monarchy is the best form of government in England: “For an Aristocracie in it selfe considered, is a government of a most constant, continuing constitution, especially, when it is mixed and tempered with a Monarchy”. The Aristocrat’s arrogance and feeling of superiority becomes evident with the above mentioned quotes. First, the Puritan’s opinions are equated to those of teenagers and second, aristocracy is said to be the only way to ensure stability in an ancient state like England which can only be ruled by Christian magistrates.

Democratic vs. anti-democratic language 

The hitherto presented rivalries, connected to the bigram parliamentary power, are additionally visible in other bigrams listed below. The bigrams contrast the rather democratic approach of the Puritans to the anti-democratic approach of the Aristocrats.



parliamentary courts   

parliamentary court

parliamentary petition

parliamentary decrees

parliamentary statutes

parliamentary laws

parliamentary way

parliamentary city

parliamentary hopes

parliamentary assembly

parliamentary records

parliamentary religion

parliamentary confirmation

parliamentary authority

Table 3: Bigram Parliamentary for Amsterdam and Oxford Publications.

While the word law, for example, refers to a “system of rules that everyone in the country must obey” (, the word statutes describes “a law that is passed by the parliament” ( Similarly, the word decree describes “an official order from a leader or a government that becomes the law” (, and the word petition refers to “a written document signed by a large number of people that asks somebody in a position of authority to do or change something” (


The list of bigrams for the word parliamentary as well as the word clouds reflect how two political parties influenced societal change by means of Early Modern Anglophone print media. Both the list of keywords and the word clouds demonstrate how print media was used to portray different political and religious opinions. With the emergence of two opposing political parties and the development of a printing press that was available for many, a new era of public discourse was introduced, because political disputes challenging Aristocracy became part of the discourse in print media.

As Aristocracy was questioned and a more democratic political system was demanded, the introduction of the word parliamentary itself describes that societal change is reflected in language. Puritans demanded the implementation of a representative parliament for which parliamentary elections were necessary. In order to express their demand, the word parliamentary needed to be established in the common lexicon of people and in the public discourse.

Further societal changes were identified as the number of topics written about in publications increased between 1600 to 1639. Proof that social change has taken place between 1600 to 1639 is the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1640 which was led between Puritans and Aristocrats. 1640 is also the year in which the number of publications including the word parliamentary boomed.

Due to these findings, it can be argued that the word parliamentary is a good example to show how societal change is reflected in the language of Early Modern Anglophone public discourse.

Further research

For further research it would be interesting to look at the history of the word parliamentary and to check how the word was introduced to the English language. A network analysis can be conducted to study whether the word spread among Early Modern writers in Europe or whether  English translations led to the introduction of the word to the English language. Moreover, the development of the word can be analyzed for the 18th century by means of full-text sources from the ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collection Online) database. Here, conclusions about societal change can as well be drawn from the metadata accompanying the database.

What I learned during my Internship

The approach to analyze societal change based on metadata from online databases was completely new to me at the beginning of my internship. However, as the approach is closely connected to data science, the method fully represents the idea of the digital humanities. The core idea of digital humanities is to use information technology to study greater amounts of data and thereby gain new knowledge. Before the humanities were connected to data science, the method of studying metadata of text sources simply did not exist, because researchers were not able to process this amount of data in their own head.

My research internship at the University of Helsinki helped me to understand this core idea of the digital humanities better. I first handedly learned what it means to work at the interface of humanities and data science. Furthermore, I got to know digital research methods and learned how to use them in order to improve my own research.

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