The transnational dynamics of social reform in the Low Countries, 1840-1940


TIC Belgium serves as a pilot project within the newly established international infrastructure, and integrates sources from primarily Belgian archives and libraries into the platform. The focus on The Low Countries is particularly relevant for both the methodological and thematic objectives:


  • Thematic objective 1. Make an empirical contribution to the understanding of the transnational field of social and legal reform, and of long term dynamics of contention and framing processes. The international congresses of the ‘long 19th century’ can be seen as laboratories for the development and diffusion of reformist ideas. Two time periods will be researched separately: (1) the coming of age of a new circulatory regime in which new transnational organizational milieus (congresses and organizations) became important carriers of ideas and contention (1815-1880) and (2) the era between 1880 and 1914, when the Western world was shrouded in a reformist climate. By following the actors and tracing their entanglements through the multiple memberships of activist cohorts rooted in the Low Countries, we contribute to a better understanding of their impact and the cultural and intellectual framing of social problems.


  • Thematic objective 2. The re-evaluation of successes and failures of the international intellectual dynamics in socio-legal reforms. The project will also identify and analyze the entire group of active Belgian contributors to international congresses and/or authors of periodicals of international organizations in the field of prison reform, police & military justice, colonial justice and social defense reform. We will focus on the interactions between administrative high functions in the new state and the role of international knowledge networks in supporting national power positions and/or individual careers. Special attention will be paid to the published contributions of intermediary actors (brokers) between transnational networks and national policy makers.


  • Methodological objective 1. Apply and develop blueprints for the construction of virtual research environments in a Belgian research environment and state of the art scanning and OCR processing of documents. From the onset the multidisciplinary collaboration between legal and social historians, sociologists, digital research infrastructure specialists and archivists is user driven. Researchers are invited to get involved in selecting the sources, in choosing the appropriate data and data structures, and in amending metadata with research oriented information.


  • Methodological objective 2. Adopting graphical, linguistic and sociological tools for historical analysis of both structured (databases) and non-structured data (documents). The aggregation of existing digital content and the scanning operations performed by the State Archives will result in large quantities of semi- and non-structured documents. In the context of the TIC Belgium project, we want to go beyond full-text search and dependency on manual metadata creation by deploying Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques and Named Entity Recognition (NER) more in particular to harvest meaningful information from unstructured data


It is only through collaborative research that we are able to assess transfers and framing processes across borders. The recently founded Virtual Research Environment (VRE) for the study of 19th and early 20th century international organizations and congresses, TIC (Transnational Intellectual Cooperation)-Collaborative, provides a shared database and online access to dispersed sources from archives and libraries across Europe and the rest of the world. Digitization provides opportunities to overcome some of the heuristic problems of transnational research. Beyond the history of social and legal reform and the attempt to bring particular collections and databases together, this project contributes to the use and assessment of methodologies from digital humanities. For this purpose we aim to maintain close relations with DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities), which aims to enhance and support digitally-enabled research across the humanities) and CENDARI (Collaborative European Digital Archive Infrastructure, which aims to integrate digital archives). TIC-Collaborative will be adjusted in a tailor-made way taking into account the particular needs of all the partners of the project, so that it encourages and facilitates collaborative research, including research conducted within the NWO-internationalisation project “the transnational dynamics of socal reform” (2014-2016) and the IUAP “Justice and Populations”.