Open Access

Feeling like a State. The Sentiments Tide of Swiss Diplomacy through the Eye of the Algorithm


Can emotions be observed throughout the years at the regional scale of continents and countries? Does variation in their intensity correlate with historical events and with the evolution of diplomatic and administrative practices? If so, who is the subject of emotion? We seek answers by a remote reading analysis of the reports of Swiss ambassadors in the first half of the 20th century. We examine the conditions under which super-individual subjects of emotion can be aggregated from large textual datasets, and propose a theoretical framework for their interpretation. In specific examples, we show how algorithmic sentiment analysis let us identify the exceptionally expressive language of the Swiss ambassador in Tokyo during World War 2, or the posture of the Swiss administration with regard to the social movements in Scandinavia. Our findings yield both methodological recommendations and theoretical bridges between various disciplines concerned with emotions and their expression in written documents.