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Title: The language of British electoral politics 1880-1910
Author: Blaxill, Luke
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2012
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This dissertation develops a new methodology for the study of British election speeches, and indeed political language more generally. It electronically analyses purpose-built multi-million word databanks ('corpora') of Liberal and Conservative public speeches delivered in the nine general elections held during the golden age of platform oratory, 1880-1910. It uses the region of East Anglia as its central case-study. The corpora are used to investigate the presentation of popular Liberalism and Conservatism by platform speakers during this crucial period. The corpora are interrogated with computer software to systematically and authoritatively quantify how far key issues, values, traditions, and personalities manifested themselves in wider party discourse. This is reinforced with a close manual reading of the speeches in order to strike an equal methodological balance between novel quantification and traditional qualification. As such, the dissertation is a potential answer to a much-debated methodological problem in Political History which has arisen from the impact of the postmodernist 'linguistic turn'. Namely, how can historians of political language combine close readings of speeches and writings with a wider explanatory ambition, and assess power, scope, and typicality in wider discourses of billions of words? The dissertation uses corpora to reassess a number of central historical debates over four chronological chapters. The first finds that historians have considerably underestimated the transformative impact of the 1883-85 reforms on rural party language, and the purchase of Chamberlain's Unauthorized Programme. The second and third contend that the centrality of Home Rule and Imperialism in the late 1880s and 1890s have been exaggerated. The fourth argues that the New Liberalism's linguistic impact was relatively weak, and failed to comprehensively contain the message of the emerging Labour alternative. More fundamentally, the dissertation contends that electoral language was a distinct discourse: an elastic, interconnected debate rather than parallel streams of speeches which passively reflected wider developments in society and politics. In this respect, it argues that Conservatives better understood, and better exploited, the platform as a partisan debating tool in these years.
Supervisor: Readman, Paul Andrew ; McCarty, Willard Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available