Text Sentiment in the Age of Enlightenment: An Analysis of Spectator Periodicals

Philipp Koncar*, Alexandra Fuchs, Elisabeth Hobisch, Bernhard C. Geiger, Martina Scholger, Denis Helic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spectator periodicals contributed to spreading the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, a turning point in human history and the foundation of our modern societies. In this work, we study the spirit and atmosphere captured in the spectator periodicals about important social issues from the 18 th century by analyzing text sentiment of those periodicals. Specifically, based on a manually annotated corpus of over 3 700 issues published in five different languages and over a period of more than one hundred years, we conduct a three-fold sentiment analysis: First, we analyze the development of sentiment over time as well as the influence of topics and narrative forms on sentiment. Second, we construct sentiment networks to assess the polarity of perceptions between different entities, including periodicals, places and people. Third, we construct and analyze sentiment word networks to determine topological differences between words with positive and negative polarity allowing us to make conclusions on how sentiment was expressed in spectator periodicals.Our results depict a mildly positive tone in spectator periodicals underlining the positive attitude towards important topics of the Age of Enlightenment, but also signaling stylistic devices to disguise critique in order to avoid censorship. We also observe strong regional variation in sentiment, indicating cultural and historic differences between countries. For example, while Italy perceived other European countries as positive role models, French periodicals were frequently more critical towards other European countries. Finally, our topological analysis depicts a weak overrepresentation of positive sentiment words corroborating our findings about a general mildly positive tone in spectator periodicals.We believe that our work based on the combination of the sentiment analysis of spectator periodicals and the extensive knowledge available from literary studies sheds interesting new light on these publications. Furthermore, we demonstrate the inclusion of sentiment analysis as another useful method in the digital humanist’s distant reading toolbox.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalApplied Network Science
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Age of Enlightenment
  • Sentiment
  • Spectator periodicals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mathematics
  • General
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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