How Quickly Do Literary Standards Change?

2015-05-19T00:10:59Z (GMT) by Ted Underwood Jordan Sellers

It's hard to generalize meaningfully about the standards that govern literary reception, and even harder to describe how they change.

This article tries to get some leverage on this difficult problem by contrasting two different samples of poetry: one group of 360 volumes that was reviewed in prestigious venues between 1820 and 1919, and another that was selected randomly from HathiTrust Digital Library. We train a model to predict reception using only word frequencies from these volumes, and then use that model to draw inferences about the pace and direction of literary change. For instance, how are diachronic changes related to synchronic standards of prestige?

The collections of data and metadata that underpin this argument were made possible through grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies.

Code, data, and metadata are available at the github repo below.