house_lords1The Institute of Historical Research is part of an international consortium which has won funding to analyse parliamentary material in a new way – using the techniques of ‘big data’. ‘Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data’ is a two-year project funded in the UK by the AHRC.

The records of three legislatures – the UK’s Hansard, from 1803, the record of the Dutch parliament, from 1814, and that of the Canadian parliament, from 1867 – will be used. This represents too much material for conventional research methods to cope with (Hansard alone amounts to nearly 3,000 volumes), so the team will apply a range of techniques from text automation and computational linguistics to provide researchers with new tools.

The verbatim, or near-verbatim, nature of these records provides a rare opportunity to analyse how people have spoken about political matters, and how that discourse changes across time and national boundaries, according to gender, and more. Two case studies from the project will focus on attitudes to immigration and how language use changes according to left-right political affiliation, illustrating the potential for the work to be done with the new resource.

An important technique for dealing with the enormous amounts of data now available is to create links between datasets. The project will be using ‘linked data’ standards to bring together information from biographical sources with an individual politician’s speeches, allowing hitherto unknown patterns to be revealed. Outwards linking, for example to newspaper archives, will further enrich the parliamentary record for future researchers.

The team is drawn from the universities of Amsterdam and Toronto, King’s College, London, the History of Parliament Trust and the Institute of Historical Research. This international scope allows for a number of further comparisons to be made: the administrative structure of each is different, and three languages are used in the records (English, Dutch and French).

For more information, click here to see the project website.

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