24 May 2020

The chart below shows how many Dutch newspaper articles contained the term crisis over the period 1800-2005 (for caveats see Method, below). The data is from the Delpher newspaper archive, which I used earlier for an analysis of Dutch words for bicycle.

The chart is dominated by a large peak that coincides with the crisis of the early 1930s. With other peaks, it’s not always possible to point to a clear event that caused it. For example, articles from 1839 that use the word crisis seem to refer to a variety of foreign crises, including a ministerial crisis in France and developments in the Ottoman Empire.

The chart above shows the use of word combinations. The expression ministerial crisis (ministerieele crisis, and other spellings) was used mainly in the 19th century; it appears to have been replaced by cabinet crisis (kabinetscrisis). On the other hand, economic crisis was little used before the 20th century. Some expressions refer to specific events, such as the Asia (Azië), Cuban (Cubaanse), Gulf (golf), food and mouth (mkz) and oil (olie) crises.

The Delpher newspaper archive doesn’t contain articles from after 2005. In order to put current reporting in a historical context, I turned to data from the New York Times over the years 1850-2020.

It’s interesting that the 1930s crisis features far less prominently than in the Delpher data, perhaps because it was referred to as the Great Depression.

There’s a large peak for 2020, but this may exaggerate what’s going on. Data for years before 2020 are evened out over an entire year, which is not the case for 2020. Therefore, it’s better to compare data per month.

The chart above shows data per month. There’s still a very large peak in 2020, but in addition there’s a peak almost as large in December 1860 and January 1861, reflecting a combination of political and economic developments prior to the American Civil War.

In a number of ways, the pattern for word combinations is similar to the Delpher data. Ministerial crisis appears to be mainly a 19th century expression whereas economic crisis is used mainly after the 19th century. Again, there’s a number of expressions associated with specific events; most prominently the coronavirus crisis. Instead of oil crisis, the preferred expression seems to have been energy crisis.

I also looked into reporting by the Guardian. Data is available for about two decades.

Again, coronavirus crisis is the most prominent expression. Another expression that stands out is climate crisis, a term not frequently used in the New York Times.


For all charts, data represent the number of articles containing a term (or combination of words) per 100,000 articles. Of course, the frequency of articles containing the term crisis cannot be simply interpreted as an indicator of how much a society is in crisis. The term may refer to very different phenomena, and on the other hand, other terms may be used to describe crisis-like situations.

The method used to collect and analyse data varies and one should be careful when it comes to comparing results from different sources. For the New York Times, I searched for articles containing the search term in the headline. Results from the Delpher database may be affected by OCR errors. Also, the set of publications available from Delpher varies over time. I limited the Delpher search to articles in national and regional newspapers.

To my knowledge, there is no api available to analyse data from Delpher. I wrote a python script to search for a search term on the Delpher website and look up the number of results per year.

24 May 2020 | Categories: data, python | Nederlands