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Graphs and Ontologies for Literary Evolution Models

Project description

A scientific study of literary evolution integrating AI, statistical modelling and Big Data

Big Data and digitalisation offer opportunities for tremendous insight in fields far beyond science and technology. Literature is now consumed on electronic devices. Readers’ thoughts about what they have read appear on digital platforms including review sites and social media. The ERC-funded GOLEM project will take advantage of the unprecedented data including the stories read and their effects on the readers as gleaned from digital and social media comments. Harnessing machine learning and statistical modelling tools and comparing the relations between stories in five different languages, the team will create accurate models that shed light on how fiction adapts to societal circumstances and cultures.


The “Graphs and Ontologies for Literary Evolution Models” (GOLEM) project will create statistically robust models explaining how fiction evolves, based on the analysis of millions of stories and the effects they have on readers. This is the first time in history that this kind of data is available on such a large scale, thanks to the fact that readers all over the world use digital and social media to share fictional stories and to comment on them, e.g. on fanfiction websites or on publishing platforms like Wattpad. GOLEM will use computational literary studies and cultural evolution theory to create accurate models of how the (formal and content-related) cultural traits found in fiction spread and combine. The basis of this evolutionary analysis of fiction will be a knowledge graph database – an infrastructure of interlinked data about stories and reader response – which will be used to test hypotheses related to the accumulation of cultural traits in stories and their effectiveness in achieving cognitive and emotional effects on readers. State-of-the-art machine learning algorithms and advanced statistical modelling tools will be employed to create a major breakthrough in computational literary studies, possibly also contributing to the revision of cultural evolution theories. By focusing on the relations between stories in five different languages, collected from countries in all continents, GOLEM will provide an unprecedented insight into how storytelling, one of the most ancient cultural systems, evolves. Literary history and criticism have offered refined accounts of how fiction works, mostly relying on case studies of limited extent. It is now time to provide robust statistical evidence of the anthropological function of fiction and of how it adapts to different circumstances and cultures, empowering readers to cope with their cultural or societal contexts.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 194 088,75
Broerstraat 5
9712CP Groningen

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Noord-Nederland Groningen Overig Groningen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 194 088,75

Beneficiaries (1)