Voices of the people. A digital platform for 18th century petitions

Navn på bevillingshaver

Nina Koefoed


Associate Professor


Aarhus University


DKK 3,605,167




Research Infrastructure


This research infrastructure project will develop a pioneering digital platform for systematic digitalization of the Danish collection of petitions from the long 18th-century. Petitions are letters of appeal from subjects to the king, expressing the perspectives of the subjects – the voices of the people. Under absolutism in Denmark (1660-1848), the institution of petitioning was formalized, and it was a legal right for subjects to hand in petitions to the king. This has resulted in a unique collection of petitions, covering all aspects of society with a variety of topics including marriage, the household, religion, justice, legislation, and business. This collection of petitions will be searchable and available for digital analysis in the open-source digital platform.


International research has shown the immense value of petitions as empirical data. Because of its size, the Danish collection has never been systematically researched (100,000+ petitions). The digital platform will make it possible to find relevant cases in an unindexed and unsearchable archive, to trace e.g., religion or cultural patterns in parts of society where we do not expect to find it, and to work with different digital methods on hitherto inaccessible material. This will allow research into how religion influenced early modern Danish society, transform research capabilities on Danish absolutism and provide invaluable experience with the process of digitizing old handwritten manuscripts and further development of AI-models in this area.


The collection of petitions, that are categorized as a Unique National Treasure will be re-digitalized by The Danish National Archives and then fed to the Transkribus-platform after it is made ready for the program. An AI model trained to read 18th century handwritten sources in Transkribus will be developed further to read with a high accuracy while transcribing the petitions. The transcribed petitions will be transferred to a platform developed by Centre for Humanities Computing Aarhus, containing both images of the original petition and the transcription. It will allow complex full-text queries in the unstructured data. Students will be employed in the project and invited to use the platform for their master’s thesis, introducing them to AI technology and research of unstructured data.

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