Historical Semantics

Academic language is as manifold as the scholars using it. A term like semantics is used differently in every discipline, sometimes more and sometimes less technical. In some contexts it is distinguished from pragmatics, metaphorology, semiotics and the like. The Computational Historical Semantics Project (Comphistsem) works with the following, very broad concept of Semantics that allows to integrate a whole range of media:

Historical semantics investigates the conditions, means and functions of the creation of meaning in past societies. It examines the pre-requisites of the networks of meaning with which cultures expressed their knowledge, emotions and beliefs. Historical semantics specifically considers the diversity of linguistic, textual, pictoral, tonal, ritual and habitual methods of expression. Its principal aim, therefore, is to consider the various means of creating meaning together. It sheds light on the co-operation and co-existence of methods of cultural orientation and knowledge organisation, as well as on the differing capabilities and potential for semantisation of these methods. Historically specific semantics are always accessible to research as aspects of social structures. These include procedures and discourses, as well as rules and strategies, with which meaning can be produced, enforced, combated, regulated, stabilised, marginalised or transformed. Meanings, which are constantly re-negotiated between situational fluidity and discursive rigidity, are at the same time both micro and macro-historical phenomena. They challenge us to combine an in-depth microscopic analysis with a macroscopic cultural comparison.


See for this concept of Historical Semantics the book series Historische Semantik (Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht, 2003 seqq.)

Between Calculating and Hermeneutic Disciplines

Historical Semantics is a core field in many disciplines that are otherwise far away from each other. This is especially true for the hermeneutic disciplines on the one hand (historians, literary scholars, philologists), and the linguistic and information technologist disciplines on the other hand. Historical Semantics (sometimes conceptual history in the Anglophone world) is a paradigmatic interface of interdependencies and of the necessity for trans-disciplinary bridges between calculating and hermeneutic approaches. The extreme difference of the academic cultures have prevented an intense communication so far: extreme differences to formulate research problems and epistemic objectives, tasks, aims, standards and undisputable fundamentals. This is what the Computational Semantics Project Group intends to bridge on a large scale. The Website intends to bridge the gap between hermeneutic and calculating scholarship. It is explicitly interested in transgressing the discourse between linguists and computer scientists that has been working quite well already for a while and in entering the field of hermeneutic scholarship that is still relatively alien to these academic traditions.


Humanities       Prof. Dr. Bernhard Jussen, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main


Informatics       Prof. Dr. Alexander Mehler, Text Technology Lab, Frankfurt am Main


Designed by      surface Gesellschaft für Gestaltung, Frankfurt am Main/Berlin


Funded by        German Federal Ministry of Education and Science (BMBF) (April 2013 - August 2016)


Precedent funding by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Award/Programme of the German Research Fundation (DFG) (July 2008 - March 2013)

                                        LOEWE Program "Digital Humanities - Integrierte Aufbereitung und Auswertung textbasierter Corpora" (Link) (2011-2013)