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  • 2020ByrnePhd

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'Pauper aliens' and 'political refugees': A corpus linguistic approach to the language of migration in nineteenth-century newspapers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
Publication date2020
Number of pages343
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Thesis sponsors
  • ESRC
  • The British Library
Award date4/05/2020
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

The widespread digitisation of their source base means that historians now face an overwhelming body of material. This historical ‘big data’ is only going to continue to expand, not just because digitisation features prominently on the agendas of institutions, but also because those studying late twentieth, and twenty-first century, history will have to deal with large quantities of ‘born digital’ material as they turn their gaze to the internet age. Although the interfaces currently used to access digital sources have their strengths, there is an increasing need for more effective ways for historians to work with large amounts of text. This thesis is one of the first studies to explore the potential of corpus linguistics, the computer-assisted analysis of language in very large bodies of text, as a means of approaching the ever-expanding historical archive.

This thesis uses corpus linguistics to examine the representation of migrants in the British Library’s nineteenth-century newspaper collection, focusing specifically upon the discourses associated with ‘aliens’ and ‘refugees’, and how they changed over time. The nineteenth century saw an increase in global movement, which led to considerable legislative changes, including the development of many of Britain’s present-day migration controls. This thesis finds that ‘alien’ migration increased in topicality in the 1880s and 1890s and that ‘alien’ saw a striking shift in its associations that, significantly, coincided with an increase in, predominantly Jewish, migrants from the Russian Empire. Although only a small proportion of Britain’s ‘alien’ population, this group dominated newspaper reporting, which became characterised by increasingly negative language, including a strong association between the ‘alien’ and poverty. Although ‘refugee’ was often associated with more positive language than ‘alien’, this thesis finds that the actions of a small number of violent individuals influenced newspaper reporting upon political refugees, who became implicated in the alleged ‘abuse’ of the ‘right of asylum’.