MeMo - Measuring Modernity: Literary and Social Change in Scandinavia 1870-1900

Name of applicant

Jens Bjerring-Hansen


University of Copenhagen


DKK 4,486,098



Type of grant

Semper Ardens: Accelerate


MeMo aims to investigate the mental reflections of societal change in literature. In the latter part of the 19th century Scandinavian societies underwent profound structural changes, encompassing numerous, interlocking areas: demography, infrastructure, morals, culture, etc. Scandinavian literature represented a cultural reflection of these transformations. We aim to explore this so-called “Modern Breakthrough” in Scandinavian literature and to foster new understandings of the dynamics of literary and social change. How did this breakthrough of new ways of thinking and writing actually unfold? Who were the actors? And to what extent did the new relate to literature at large?


The project offers new insights in to how Denmark and Scandinavia became modern, and what the role of literature was in that process. Also, it aims to make us wiser on the possibilities of exploring literary history, by way of combining people and computers, historical interpretation and computational algorithms.


We will base the co-ordination of the literary and the social on a new, vast body of empirical evidence. Traditional historiography has focused on selected texts by a few prominent, male authors. Our digital corpus comprises some 900 Danish and Norwegian novels 1870-1900 with rich metadata on texts and authors. We will approach this work through the development of state-of-the-art computational techniques for literary analysis. To make sense of the statistics we intend to combine the digital interventions with critical interpretation, based on theoretical and historical expertise. This allow for the capturing of robust literary and sociological trends and for new insights into the processes of modernization in a formative period in the literary and social history of Scandinavia.

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