Projects archive


‘Nederlandsheid’ (‘Dutchness’)

Project leader: Herman Roodenburg
Staff: Markus Balkenhol, Sophie Elpers, Peter Jan Margry, Irene Stengs, Marc van Oostendorp
Funding: Meertens Instituut
This project investigates the rediscovery of ‘Dutchness’ – all the recent constructions (political, intellectual, artistic or commercial) in which what is felt as ‘typically’ or ‘authentically’ Dutch is again promoted, celebrated or commercially exploited. Partly related to the initiatives of several Dutch governments to strengthen the nation after ‘nine eleven’ and the political murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, many new constructions of ‘Dutchness’ have emerged in political, intellectual, artistic and commercial circles, including those of the fashion industry and the creative industry. Interestingly, similar developments have been observed in, for instance, Germany, England, Denmark, and a number of other European countries.

In this interdisciplinary and comparative project questions will be asked about how these recent constructions actually emerged, about the constructions’ grammars of identity/alterity, their problematic aspects of autochtony and nativism, and how they are actually related to more general processes of globalization, mediatization and the present emotion industry. Finally, questions will be asked about the emotional and sensory hold of the constructions. How are they appropriated, often literally incorporated? Here notions of Habitus may be helpful but also the notions of ‘style’ and ‘aesthetics’ as recently developed in religious studies. Most of the project will be based on fieldwork, archival research and interviews/questionnaires. Part of the project will also consist of ‘sentiment mining’ in the records of the Dutch parliament over the last ten years. The goal is to semi-automatically create wordnets through pattern recognition for the parliament’s vocabulary expressing emotions related to ‘Dutchness’.

Tunes & Tales

Project leader: Theo Meder
Staff: Peter van Kranenburg, Berit Janssen, Folgert Karsdorp, Martine de Bruin, Ellen van der Grijn, Marianne van Zuijlen
Funding: Computational Humanities (KNAW)
Oral transmission is a fascinating aspect of the broader phenomenon of cultural transmission. In oral culture, artefacts such as songs and tales are passed on to next generations without written or technical reproduction media, just by voice and ear. The process of oral transmission causes alteration and variation to a considerable extent. Yet, after several generations of oral transmission artefacts generally still retain their identity (in oral terms). How can this be? Are there convergent forces? What is persistent to change and what not? How can we model the process of oral transmission?

In the project ‘Tunes & Tales’ we will create such models, based on the vast oral corpora of Dutch folksongs and Dutch and Frisian folktales of the Meertens Institute. We consider two categories: tunes (music) and tales (text). Firstly, we formalize tunes and tales as layered sequences of motifs, this will result in prototype systems for the automatic recognition of motifs in tunes and tales. Formalization is an important first step that will enable the analysis of large amounts of available data for creating models of oral transmission. On top of that, automatic recognition of motifs can be used for automatic classification of the corpora – a much needed practical application for making the Meertens collections further accessible for ethnomusicological and ethnological research.
Based on the automated analysis of motif sequences, a generative model that simulates the oral transmission including the inherent variation will be created. The models will be tested on the oral material of the Meertens Institute in cooperation with domain experts. This will contribute to understanding the mechanism of oral transmission as described above.

FACT (Folktales As Classifiable Texts)

Statues of the giants Ellert and Brammert in the open-air museum in Schoonoord, the Netherlands. Ellert and Brammert are the main characters in a myth from the Dutch province of Drenthe.
Source: Wikipedia

Project leader: Theo Meder
Staff: Dolf Trieschnigg, Dong Nguyen, Iwe Muiser, Marianne van Zuijlen (including valorization: Nikkie Herberigs, Matthijs Brouwer)
Funding: NWO
The Meertens Institute publishes and maintains the Dutch Folktale Database, an online collection of over 40.000 Dutch folktales ( It serves two major purposes:
1. A digital archive of immaterial heritage
2. A digital research instrument

The Folktale Database is frequently consulted by humanities researchers, students, journalists, storytellers and people interested in folktales in general. To make it easier for users to search the collection, the folktales are enriched with metadata that include information about language, content, genre and type. Currently all annotation is performed manually, which is a time consuming process.
In the FACT project we will investigate to what extent the annotation of the folktales in the database can be automated using various text processing methods, focusing on the statistics oriented and machine learning approaches that are commonly employed in the area of natural language processing. We also want to explore the use of such methods for the extraction of additional relevant information from the folktales in the corpus, extending current annotation practice. This may reveal currently unidentified semantic or structural relationships between folktales, allowing us to classify (parts of) the corpus along new dimensions and providing fresh perspectives for narrative analysis by humanities researchers.

The project’s work plan is built around three kernels:
– The postdoc will investigate methods for the tasks of automatic recognition of names and languages, automatic attribution of keywords, and automatic construction of summaries.
– The PhD-student will investigate methods for the task of automatic identification of (sub)genres and international tale types. In addition, this research aims at developing novel classification methods for folktale material based on clustering techniques.
– The programmer will enhance the existing annotation platform by integrating any suitable new methods for automatic metadata extraction and classification developed in the project, as well as visualization tools that may support navigation in the more richly annotated collection.
In addition to the main aims outlined above, we intend to investigate the feasibility and usefulness of enhancing the Folktale Database with a geo-mapping tool to visualize the spatial distribution of variants of the same folktale, and a crowd-sourcing feature allowing the general public to send in their tales digitally or add metadata online.