The ninth article of the Distant Reading Recommends series was written by Borja Navarro Colorado (Universidad de Alicante) and Rosario Arias (Universidad de Málaga)

In 1840, the Spanish writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Puerto Príncipe, Cuba, 1814 – Madrid, 1873) published in Madrid Sab, a highly critical novel of the society of that time. The novel denounces both nineteenth-century slavery and women’s social condition, which the author compares due to their similar lack of freedom.

Author: Federico de Madrazo (1815 – 1894)
Year: 1857
Public domain

Sab is a sentimental novel. It recounts the impossible love between Sab, a mulatto slave, and Carlota, the master’s daughter. The ethnic and social differences make that love impossible. The love triangle that helps structure the novel is completed with Enrique Otway, Carlota’s fiancé and Sab’s antagonist.

For Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab’s emotions and his capacity for love make him an honourable character like any other human being, and also superior to his antagonist, the noble Enrique Otway, who is characterised by his incapacity of feeling passion or love. In addition to this dignified portrayal of the slave, the novel overtly denounces slavery. This can be seen in the passage below:

“under this fiery sky, the almost naked slave works all morning without rest, and at the terrible hour of noon panting, burdened with the weight of the firewood and the reed over his back, and burnt by the solar radiation that roasts his complexion, the poor slave comes to enjoy all the pleasures that life has for him: two hours of sleep and a miserable ration” (Chapter 1; our translation)

Also, the end of the novel interestingly reflects upon Sab himself:

Is Virtue not the same for everybody? Has the Great Master of this human family established different laws between the ones born with a dark skin and those born with a bright skin? Have we all not the same necessities, the same passions and the same defects? Then, why have some the right of enslaving and some the obligation of obeying?

Thus, Sab is situated among the first European abolitionist novels. It was published in the same year of the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and its colonies, eleven years before the publication of Beecher-Stroke’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and twenty years before the publication of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). While it remains clear that there is a social denunciation, it must be said that Sab is not an abolitionist novel in the same way as those published in Great Britain or the United States during the nineteenth century. The material life conditions of slaves, as well as the whipping and punishments carried out by cruel masters, do not feature in Sab. The novel focuses on showing the feelings and passions of the characters, which in this way become more dignified.

What especially differentiates Sab from other abolitionist novels is how Gómez de Avellaneda uses the theme of slavery to also denounce the position of the nineteenth-century woman and her lack of freedom. In the novel, the situation of the slave is compared and runs parallel to the woman’s situation, whose life is limited and dominated by a man, regardless of her race or social position. In this way, Sab is innovative and ground-breaking as far as women’s literature is concerned. The Romantic movement allowed some women to access literary circles, as well as to see their work published, but not without some difficulties. Along with Gómez de Avellaneda, writers like Fernán Caballero (Cecilia Böhl de Faber’s pen name), Carolina Coronado or Rosalía de Castro published some of their works in Spain. They contributed to the visibility of women’s social situation, being Sab one of the first texts portraying such a topic.

In this way, at the end of the novel, Gómez de Avellaneda reflects on this topic by means of the slave Sab:

“Oh, women! Poor and blind victims! As the slaves do, they patiently drag their chain and hang their heads beneath the yoke of human laws. With no other guide than their ignorant and credulous hearts, they choose an owner for life. At least the slave might change his master, he can hope that by getting enough money he will one day buy his freedom: but when the woman puts her slim hands up and look up with her outraged forehead to ask for freedom, she hears the monster with a sepulchral voice which says: “In the grave.”

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

All in all, Sab is a vindication of the freedom and dignity of human beings because of their capacity to feel emotions and love. Due to its social criticism, the novel was not well-received when it was first published. In fact, it was removed from Gómez de Avellaneda’s Complete Works (1869-1871) which was compiled at the end of the nineteenth century. However, the novel did not fall into oblivion, and it gained widespread recognition in the twentieth century, being now considered one of the main works of the Spanish Romanticism. However, the novel has not sufficiently attracted scholarly interest as yet, and it has only been translated into English (Austin, University Texas Press, 1993), French (Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010) and Italian (Rome, Bibliotheka Edizioni, 2018).

«Sab» is included in the Spanish corpus of ELTeC, and can be read here.


            Digital source of the novel:–0/

            1914 edition:


Bravo Villasante, Carmen, Una vida romántica: la Avellaneda, Madrid, Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana y Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, 1986.

Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab and Autobiography, Austin, University Texas Press, 1993.  Translated and edited by Nina M. Scott.

Gómez de Avellaneda,  Sab. Roman Original, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010. Traduit en français pour Élisabeth Pluton.

Gómez de Avellaneda,  Sab,  Roma, Bibliotheka Edizioni, 2018. Traduzione da Giussepina De Vita.

Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab, Madrid, Cátedra, 1997. Edición, introducción y notas de José Servera.

Kirkpatrick, Susan, Las románticas. Escritoras y subjetividad en España. 1835-1850, Madrid, Cátedra, 1991.

Rexarch, Rosario, Estudios sobre Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Madrid, Verbum, 1996.

Servera, José, “Introducción” a Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab, Madrid, Cátedra, 1997.

Distant reading is an umbrella term for methods of large-scale cultural analysis. These methods are often borrowed from the nomothetic sciences – ones that address general, theoretical questions. However, most often, digital humanists employ distant reading for answering idiographic questions – ones about unique cultural phenomena. In this talk I will argue that scholars of literature and other arts now have an opportunity to explore nomothetic questions – specifically, nomothetic questions about cultural change: a highly understudied research area. Dealing with such questions requires not only large databases and computational techniques, but also a theoretical framework – such as the theory of cultural evolution. I will present key components of the theory of cultural evolution and will discuss three of my studies that tackle the following general questions: 1) How do our shared cognitive preferences influence the evolution of art forms? 2) Does the order of entering a new genre influence the future success of an artist? 3) Does art become more complex over the course of its evolution?

Oleg Sobchuk is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Jena, Germany). He pursues general questions about the evolution of literature, films, and other arts, using large databases and computational methods. His work bridges digital humanities and the theory of cultural evolution.

In her talk prof. dr. Karina van Dalen-Oskam will take stock of where we currently stand in Computational Literary Studies and explicitly dream of what we may want to be able to do in the future. What could be the next steps towards more knowledge about the language and function of literature in Europe in the past and the present? What kind of data and tools would we need? Which other research disciplines come into view when we want to answer bigger and bigger questions? And what is the impact our research could have on the multilingual European academic and literary landscape?

Prof. dr. Karina van Dalen-Oskam is research group leader at Huygens Institute (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) and professor of Computational Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on computational literary studies and the development of methods and techniques for the stylistic analysis of modern Dutch and English novels. She applies these methods to analyze stylistic differences in texts, oeuvres, genres, time periods, and cultures or languages. Proper names in literary texts have her special interest. She is also interested in canon formation. She was project leader of The Riddle of Literary Quality (2012-2019) and currently leads, among other projects, Track Changes: Textual scholarship and the challenge of digital literary writing. At the University of Wolverhampton she is co-investigator in the project Novel Perceptions: Towards an inclusive canon in which the research done in the Dutch Riddle of Literary Quality project is being replicated in the United Kingdom.

The COST Action Distant Reading for European Literary History is delighted to announce that its closing conference takes place on April 21-22, 2022 in an online-only format. 

The conference is co-organized as a common event of the Distant Reading and the Computational Literary Studies Infrastructure (CLS INFRA) projects. The local organizer is the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. 

Participants from both projects will be presenting papers on a wide range of topics in the field of distant reading and computational methods applied to literary texts. Sessions address topics such as corpus design, text encoding and annotation, analytical perspectives, theoretical concerns as well as infrastructure and training requirements. 

We are proud to welcome two keynote speakers: Prof. Dr. Karina van Dalen-Oskam (University of Amsterdam and The Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands, Netherlands) and Dr. Oleg Sobchuk (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany).
The full conference programme is available here:

We, scholars from more than 30 European countries, express our full support for Ukraine which is suffering from the Russian invasion. This invasion is happening in today’s Europe, where we live and work.  

Ukraine is part of the European scholarly community and we stand by our Ukrainian colleagues. It is utterly heartbreaking and unacceptable that such an invasion can happen. We have been working together closely, productively, and successfully for many years with colleagues across Europe, including in Ukraine and Russia, in scholarly projects, initiatives, conferences and associations. We value this collaboration brought about by shared scholarly values and mutual respect. 

We urge our governments to take a decisive stance and act now to stop the terror and bloodshed inflicted on Ukrainians. In response to the Russian invasion we call for the following:

  • together with NATO allies, introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, effective immediately, to stop Russian airstrikes on civilian areas;
  • implement full-scale economic sanctions, including exclusion from SWIFT, more visa bans and asset freezes on Kremlin-linked figures and companies;
  • continue to support Ukraine with weapons, protective equipment, fuel, and whatever else necessary to counter the biggest army on the continent;
  • continue to support the humanitarian effort to help the Ukrainian people. 

We also urge the European Commission, the COST Association, as well as national governments and research funding agencies across Europe to swiftly prepare funding schemes to support Ukrainian researchers and sustain their presence within the European Research Area. 

Scholars of the COST Action “Distant Reading for European Literary History” and of the Horizon 2020 project “Computational Literary Studies Infrastructure”

Слава Україні! / Glory and peace to Ukraine! 

(February 26, 2022. Text based on a statement by the COST Action NEP4Dissent.) 

First call for Grant Period 3, for Missions occurring before March 31st, 2020.

COST Action “Distant Reading for European Literary History” (CA16204) is launching a new call for applications for Short Term Scientific Missions (STSMs). The deadline for applications is November 30th, 2019.

Our Action is particularly interested in the following topics, which are closely linked to the Action’s activities at the moment. Priority will be given to STSM applications regarding:

  1. Producing EPUBs from ELTeC texts 
  2. Interface to ELTeC for search, filtering and download of texts
  3. More texts for addition to the Action’s collection
  4. Annotating training sets for UD pipe
  5. Tackling Research Questions from WG3 to WG2  

Applicants who are interested in one or several of the topics above should contact the Action’s STSM Coordinator ( in order to obtain more information on them.

What is the COST Action “Distant Reading for European Literary History”? We aim to create a vibrant and diverse network of researchers jointly developing the resources and computational methods necessary to change the way European literary history is written. Fostering insight into cross-national, large-scale patterns and evolutions across European literary traditions, we will facilitate the creation of a broader, more inclusive and better-grounded account of European literary history and cultural identity.

What are Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSM)? STSMs aim to strengthen the existing COST Actions by allowing scientists to go to an institution or laboratory in another COST country to foster collaboration, to learn a new technique or to collect data using instruments and/or methods not available in their own institution/laboratory. They are particularly intended for Early Career Investigators (PhD students or researchers who received their PhD no more than 8 years ago).

For information about the Action, please see: and

For information on the application process, please see:

The COST Action Distant Reading for European Literary History is issuing a Call for Applications for its third Training School, hosted by the Centre for Digital Humanities – Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest from September 23 to 25, and co-located with the DH_Budapest 2019 conference

Note that participation is free of charge! Applicants may apply for one of the grants for participation in one of the 3 parallel tracks: 
TRACK 1: Corpus design and text contribution for ELTeC
TRACK 2: Natural Language Processing for Distant Reading 
TRACK 3: Canonization in Distant Reading Research  

To apply, please see the information and instructions in the full Call for Applications. Applications will be sent to Roxana Patras ( and Christof Schöch ( before June 25th, 2019 until July 15, 2019. In case you have questions regarding the call, the application process or the Training School, please contact Roxana Patras, the Action’s Training School Coordinator (

Beside the participation in one of the 3 parallel tracks, there are also opportunities for all Training School participants to register for and participate in the DH_BUDAPEST 2019 conference, held in Budapest and directly following the Training School, from September 25 to 27, 2019! Information will be available on the conference page

More details regarding the programme of the Training School are forthcoming. Please watch the page dedicated to the Training School on the Action’s website at:
Please feel free to disseminate this message within your own research communities. Early Career Investigators (ECI) from Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITC) ( are strongly encouraged to apply!

Action members Mike Kestemont (University of Antwerp) and Maciej Eder (Polish Academy of Sciences) are happy to report that they have recently secured funding for a three-year, collaborative research project, following a joint call of the Research agency of Flanders (FWO) and the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS). The project can be considered a spin-off of this COST action and, as an academic airbridge between Antwerp and Krakow, it will intensify the already strong ties that exist between various research teams in their respective institutions.

Maciej Eder and Mike Kestemont

The project is entitled ‘Deep Learning in Computational Stylistics.’ In the proposed collaboration, they aim to turn our attention to “deep” representation learning in order to improve computational methods for the robust stylistic analysis of short documents (< 1000 words). Although this technology is nowadays also emerging in Humanities research, it is surprising how (relatively) few applications have been reported so far in the domain of authorship attribution. The few research examples that have been published in this domain focus on micro-blogging data and is hard to extrapolate to longer documents. The researchers propose a three-year collaboration aimed at the introduction and adaptation of deep learning methods to computational stylistics, with an emphasis on author identification. 

Congratulations to Mike and Maciej!