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Code & Culture Lecture Series

by the Digital Humanities Network at the University of Potsdam

Library interiors with books
Photo: Pexels

Join us once a month for our recurring lecture series on the digital analysis of literature and culture. Each session features a distinguished researcher specializing in computational literary studies or other digital studies of culture, presenting their latest insights and findings. Following the talk, attendees are invited to participate in a lively discussion, delving deeper into the presented topics and exchanging ideas with fellow enthusiasts.

Thinking About Culture (not) as Data

Who: Lev Manovich, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

When: 4. Juni, 10:00 AM CEST


Why do we often approach cultural data using ideas developed in the 18th and 19th century, before digital computers and big data? Can we think about cultural objects and histories without using categories? What can AI see in cultural artefacts, and what it remains blind to? 
Lev Manovich will discuss what he sees as some of the biggest challenges in looking at culture with computers, and suggest some ways to address those challenges. 

​​​​​​The cultural code of gender: from binary classes to a complex phenomenon of literary characterization

  • Who: Mareike Schumacher,  assistant professor for Digital Humanities at the University of Stuttgart
  • When: May 7, 2024,  18:30 CEST


Can the two classes "male" and "female" – often understood as a binary either-or distinction – actually be modeled as basic units ("primitives") that can be arranged into complex codes designating all facets of gender in its multiplicity? In this talk, an analogy between the technical binary code and the cultural code of gender is used to test the hypothesis that gender can be seen as a discrete phenomenon constructed through varying combinations of male and female features. Additionally, it is brought into question whether "neutral" should be seen as a third basic unit and whether there might be more “gender primitives”.

The presentation also includes a case study from Computational Literary Studies, in which several corpora consisting of literary texts in the German language are analyzed. In the study, gender roles such as ‘father’, ‘young girl’, or ‘person’ are classified according to basic gender units. By analysis of almost 400 character profiles, typical and atypical gender codes are defined, and a spheric notion of gender is introduced.

The Driving Forces of Literary Evolution: Tracing the Causes of Cultural Change with the Price Equation 

  • When: April 2, 2024,  18:30 CEST
  • Who: Oleg Sobchuk,  researcher at the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany


Does literature progress “one funeral at a time”, as Max Planck famously claimed about science? Is the change mainly driven by the turnover of “generations”, or cohorts? Who contributes more to change in literature and arts – “old masters” or “young geniuses”? And how can we separate the different causes of cultural change?

A trendline spanning a period of time is one of the most common graphs in the computational humanities. Often, such a trendline is explained with a single causal mechanism: a cause C is driving a trait T over a period P. For example, the proportion of negative words (T1) during the 20th century (P1) in literature is increasing due to “negativity bias” (C1). Or, the proportion of abstract words (T2) in the 19th century (P2) is growing due to urbanisation (C2). On the surface, this approach may look sufficient but, under the surface, there are rocks: not only there could be multiple causes, but also different parts of the trendline may be driven by different causes. In computational humanities, there is no effective method for “dissecting the trendline” and uncovering these hidden causal mechanisms.

The scholars of evolution, however, do have such a method: a simple and elegant – and famous – equation that was suggested by the mathematician George R. Price over 50 years ago, known as “the Price equation”. It allowed biologists to uncover the potential driving forces behind evolutionary change. The forces behind literary – and, more broadly, cultural – change are still little known – and much debated. The Price equation can give us the answers.

Stay tuned for upcoming talks and join us for an enriching experience!

Contact the organisers:

Daniil Skorinkin (skorinkinuni-potsdamde), Digital Humanities Coordinator at the University of Potsdam