Berenike Herrmann: "Computing Beauty. How Computational Stylistics Are Changing Literary Studies"

Monday, December 16, 2019, 6:30pm

This is the eighth talk of the lecture series.

This talk will take place in lecture hall H09 in C.A.R.L. (Claßenstraße 11).


Usually, the appreciation and evaluation of art counts a highly variable affair. For example, readers of literary texts have different aims and expectations, corresponding with their personalities and underlying values. Some people seek escape from daily challenges through affect-driven transportation into fictional worlds, others delight in a distanced reflection of aesthetic form, and yet others read most of all to be able to discuss issues they find pertinent with others.  

In an attempt to systematize phenomena, formally oriented literary research has suggested that people’s evaluation of literary texts is driven by systematic schemata (Heydebrand & Winko, 2008), and recent empirical studies find a more nuanced overall picture (Riddell & Dalen-Oskam, 2018).

Capitalizing on the ‘big data’ available from born digital data, my lecture will introduce research questions relating to the evaluation of literary texts by lay readers on the web ( Scrutinizing language use approached as “style” (Herrmann et al., 2015) in a big-data analysis of 1.2 mio lay reviews, I will discuss sentiments (SentiWS) and the range of lexical features indicative of categories of “star ratings” (1-5) across different book genres (e.g., romance novels, young adult literature, classical novels).

Addressing the promises as well as the limitations of big data humanities, I will discuss how the field of computational stylistics has the potential of changing literary studies.

Additional reading recommendation: Herrmann, J. B., van Dalen-Oskam, K., & Schöch, C. (2015). Revisiting Style, a Key Concept in Literary Studies. Journal of Literary Theory9(1), 25–52.