How Eighteenth-Century Common People Described Their Environment

Øyvind Eide

In the mid 18th century, a set of border protocols was created based on interviews with inhabitants in Northern Scandinavia. Most of the interviews are with common people: Semi-nomadic reindeer herders as well as fishers and farmers; both Sami, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish. This material has been digitised and some 500 pages of it have been XML encoded using the TEI standard.

In the paper, a number of computer based methods for enquiry into this material will be described. Its value as source material that can be used to understand the way people spoke, especially about geographical matters, will be discussed.

There are many reasons to be careful when using such material, e.g. because all the testimonies were translated into Danish before they were taken down. On the other hand, the protocols are based on court statements made under oath, which are generally viewed by historians as one of the best sources to common people’s way of expressing themselves.

Accepting its shortcomings, the border protocol material is well worth a close study as a possible source to knowledge about cognitive structures in this multi-ethnic area in Northern Europe.