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New post on Digital Humanities LabLeibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte


Imperial Commoners in Brazil and West Africa (1640–1822): A Global History from a Correspondence Network Perspective


By Agata Bloch and Demival Vasques Filho

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After a couple of attempts, we have finally received the exciting news that our project has been recommended for funding by the Polish National Science Center! Over the next four years, we will study the communication patterns of imperial commoners (non-elite actors) who developed similar characteristics, narratives, and thought strategies in different areas of the vast Atlantic Portuguese Empire. We are interested not only in how these commoners generally behaved and displayed attitudes that transcended class and gender, but also in how imperial authorities responded to them.


The project draws on a unique dataset that we created based on the catalogs of the Portuguese Overseas Archives (AHU) in Lisbon, especially the Projeto Barão do Rio Branco and Atlantic catalogs. The dataset includes administrative correspondence-nearly 170,000 records-between the metropolis of Lisbon and its Atlantic overseas colonies. We used natural language processing (NLP) techniques to identify and extract structured data from otherwise unstructured free-text data. We extracted information such as the sender and recipient of these documents, the occupation of the actors in the administration (e.g., king, governor, secretary, etc.) and in society at large, their gender, institutional affiliation, and geographic location. We have described this process – the transformation of archival data into network data (Fig. 1) – in our article published in the journal Social Networks (Bloch, Vasques Filho, and Bojanowski, 2022).


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