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The Riddle of Literary Quality: a Part of the Answer

woensdag 12 december 2018
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference Room

Literary writing has been analyzed from many perspectives, but it is still unclear what ‘literature’ is. Is it the text itself that has a quality that will last through the ages? Or is it a sociological process determining which authors, genres, and books have prestige and which not? The project The Riddle of Literary Quality has approached this problem from a new perspective: that of stylometry. The project started in January 2012 and will be finished in 2019. The project is funded by the Computational Humanities Programme of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
‘The Riddle’ combines computational analysis of writing style with the results of a large online survey of readers, completed by almost 14,000 participants. The respondents gave their opinions about books they read and did not read on a list of 400 best-selling novels. They provided some personal information such as age, gender, education, and replied to a set of statements indicating what kind of reader they are. So what do we find when we correlate readers’ opinions with a stylometric analysis of the same novels? Which features are shared by books evaluated as highly literary compared with books that were not found very literary at all? 

Prof. Dr. Karina van Dalen-Oskam is head of the department of literary studies of Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and professor in computational literary studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with the analysis of literary writing style and builds on her expertise in literary studies, medieval studies, onomastics and lexicography. She is an active member of the international digital humanities community, where she currently serves as chair of the steering committee of the global Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO).

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