Joris van Eijnatten and Pim Huijnen receive the Richard Deswarte Award for Digital History!

24 Oct 2022 - 4 min

Portraits of two men
Dr. Pim Huijnen (left) and Prof. dr. Joris van Eijnatten (right)

Here’s a tidbit of information we’d like to share with you. Our general director, Prof. dr. Joris van Eijnatten, and his colleague, Dr. Pim Huijnen, both connected to Utrecht University, have been awarded the inaugural Richard Deswarte Prize for Digital History, for their article:

Something Happened to the Future: Reconstructing Temporalities in Dutch Parliamentary Debate, 1814 – 2018

What is the Deswarte Prize?

The Deswarte Prize was established in memory of Richard Deswarte, a founding convenor of the Digital History seminar at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London, and an advocate for the value and importance of digital history.

The prize seeks to celebrate the best of digital history internationally, with a particular focus on published works that make substantial contributions to the historiography of their field and intervene in debates concerning methodology.

An unexpected prize

The judging panel agreed that, from a strong field of nominations, the ‘article was the standout piece.’

‘’This was totally unexpected,” says Joris van Eijnatten. ”The message arrived out of the blue on a Monday morning, and it made my day! Pim and I both feel deeply honored in having received this token of recognition from our peers.

I’m pleased that our article can help stimulate digital historical research in this way. The establishment of a prestigious award like the Deswarte Prize demonstrates that the humanities and what we at the eScience Center call ‘enhanced science’ make excellent bedfellows.”

Echoing this sentiment, Pim Huijnen says, “I’m absolutely honoured and proud to receive this prize. It has been a joy to do this research together with Joris because we are very much on the same page when it comes to what we find interesting in cultural history and how to use computational techniques to study these questions.”

What is the article about?

Referring to the data (minutes of parliamentary debates) from the award-winning article.

We asked Joris and Pim to give a quick summary of the article. They explained: ”the question we posed was, ‘how did people in the past think about the future?’

We used digital methods to trace the different meanings attributed to ‘future’ in Dutch parliamentary records between 1814 and 2018. We saw some intriguing trends. Past futures were never certain, but they were relatively more predictable.

In the nineteenth century, people found comfort in the idea that the future lay in God’s hands. In the 1970s, they believed the future could be planned, or even predicted in the form of scenarios. Through the 1980s and 1990s, this changed radically: the future became fundamentally unpredictable and risky. It became something to be afraid of.”

As we all know, research results come with a lot of work. So, what was their drive in writing this paper and what did the roadmap look like?

How did people in the past think about the future?

”Pim and I are fascinated by ‘conceptual history’. This is the history of words that are heavy in meaning, such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Meanings change over time. In this case, we focused on the ‘future’ because this concept is highly topical at the moment. The future is in a crisis. We don’t control it anymore. Just think about the consequences of climate change or global warfare: they bring home to us that the future is more uncertain than ever.

We worked on and off on this article for the larger part of a year. Getting the data organized, writing the code, extracting relevant results, and especially putting everything down on paper required multiple passes. The robust editorial process to which articles in the humanities are subjected probably took another year.”

And their hard work paid off! On 8 November, Joris and Pim will receive their award during the IHR Digital History seminar series at the University of London, which will be live-streamed on YouTube.

Want to read the article Joris and Pim wrote? Click on the button below, get some tea or coffee and enjoy this analysis of past futures!