International Ideas at UNESCO

Digital Approaches to Global Conceptual History

This project uses the tools of large-scale digital text analysis to explore thousands of documents produced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from its foundation in 1945 to 2015. The purpose of this project is to use the vast quantity of texts produced by this global institution to understand how “international ideas,” the core concepts that define the terms of international debate, developed and changed over time. Focusing on how concepts related to culture and communication affected and were affected by decolonization, our approach will shed light on the intellectual history of the process by which international society became global. Working with systems developers at Humlab Umeå, we will apply cutting-edge methods of digital text analysis, including topic modeling and word embedding models, to a large sample of texts (ca 20 million words) including minutes from UNESCO’s General Conference, legal agreements, and UNESCO’s magazine Courier. The goals of our project are two: to contribute to our understanding of the history of international ideas, and to make a methodological contribution to the emerging field of global conceptual history, by exploring the power of digital methods for this field. Today, when global cooperation is more important than ever, understanding the role of culture and communication in international relations seems vital. Investigating the international history of these concepts is a good place to start.

Staircase at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris (Photo credit: Hisae K., “UNESCO”, 2008, flickr creative commons)
Staircase at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris (Photo credit: Hisae K., “UNESCO”, 2008, flickr creative commons)

About the Project

Project Duration

2020-2022

Funding

The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)