Time will tell a different story

Time will tell a different story

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 121-180 AD)


Project Description

Historic research has gone through significant changes over time, in an effort to produce the most objective presentations of the past. Facts may remain the same, but perspectives in the way historians describe people and events change. Historians used to write about divine interventions, kings and battles, but they now also concentrate on topics like slaves, the history of medicine and the development of farming. The angle of analysis evolves hand in hand with the change of time, society and public opinion. It is not uncommon for example, that a Dutch governor could be considered a hero in the nineteenth century and now is considered to be a war criminal.In this project, we investigate how we can identify these changes in perspective automatically using NLP tools. We will look at differences in perspective in the biography portal, a database containing biographies from various periods in time and sources.A student with a background in linguistics or computer science will collaborate with a history student to address questions such as:

  • What differences in topics do we find in different sources?
  • What opinions are provided in text? Are descriptions objective or subjective?

The task of the computer scientist/linguist will consist of running and evaluating existing tools on data from the biography portal of the Netherlands and, depending on background and interest, adapt tools to the domain and the task or identify linguistic cues for comparing changes in perspective in text.


We are looking for a student with a background in Linguistics or Computer Science and an interest in Natural Language Processing. We are working with Dutch text. Knowledge of Dutch is useful, though not required.

How to Apply

This project is a collaboration between Computational Lexicology and Terminology Lab (Dept. of Language and Communication) and the History Department.

The supervising team will consist of Antske Fokkens (CLTL group) and Serge ter Braake (History).

If you are interested, send an email to Antske Fokkens <antske.fokkens@vu.nl> and Serge ter Braake <s.ter.braake@vu.nl> by Wednesday 1 Oct 2014, listing:

– your undergraduate degree,
– the master courses you have taken and intend to take,
– a list of your grades,
– a brief motivation
– an indication of your availability (starting date).