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Published August 17, 2023 | Version v1
Journal article Open

An Industrial West? A Quantitative Analysis of Newspapers Discourses about Technology over Ninety Years (1830-1940)

  • 1. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
  • 2. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
  • 3. Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
  • 4. University of Zurich (UZH)


Recent work analyzing the social impact of technoloogy in processes of globalization signals a shared Western voice in technologically related discourses dating back at least twenty years. However, many scholars propose the idea that, as a direct consequence of the Second Industrial Revolution, globalization processes can be traced back at least to the second half of the nineteenth century. Only a few decades later, nevertheless, two of the most divisive historic events ever in human history took place: the First and Second World Wars. In this article we seek to explore information behaviour during one hundred years approximately (1830-1940), using multilingual newspapers of record as a proxy (Le Figaro, The New York Herald, El Imparcial, Neuer Hamburger Zeitung and La Stampa), to observe to what extent technology acted as a cohesive force across Western societies walking along these different historic happenings. Thus we filter our corpus with three key technological terms (telephone, gasoline, and iron) as an exploratory endeavour. We use a fivestep pipeline that includes Topic Modelling (Pachinko Allocation), translation of the topic words into English, Word Embeddings, Ward Hierarchical Clustering, and a directed graph. Our data analysis reveals three main findings: firstly, we empirically detect a trend in information flattening coinciding with the peak of the Second Industrial Revolution (1890 and 1900), as well as a trend of information complexity during the following decades. Secondly, we observe more nuanced patterns of agreement during the Twentieth century, therefore showing how the social and political polarity during that time did not affect technological related discourses. Thirdly, we notice high rates of content similarity across our three selected key terms over the whole observational time, displaying almost identical wording. These findings make us speculate with the idea that it is possible to trace back a shared Western voice in technological related discourses back to two hundred years ago. 


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GLOTECH – Time, Technology, and Globalization. A study of the role of technology in processes of modernization and globalization using the Press, Big Data, and Computational Research Methodologies (GLOTECH) 101024996
European Commission