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.