Bias, Diversity & Survival

Árni Magnússon Logo and Signature

The 2020 Árni Magnússon Birthday lecture will be presented by:

Mike Kestemont, University of Antwerp

Friday, November 13 at 15:00 via Zoom. Registration now open!

Bias, diversity and survival: Can statistical methods from ecology estimate the loss of medieval literature?

The loss of material artefacts is one of the major hurdles in the scholarly study of human cultures in the past. Estimating what kind of cultural losses we have sustained over the centuries, for instance in the domain of literature, remains a vexed issue that compromises our ability to construct reliable historical narratives. Surprisingly, the problem of “lost literature” is remarkably similar to the “unseen species problem” in ecology, where biostatisticians have developed interesting quantitative approaches to estimate how many unobserved species live in a certain area. This talk will demonstrate how models from ecodiversity can help us gauge how many works – and manuscript witnesses – have been lost to us from the high medieval period in Western Europe. Our multilingual case study is taken from the world of medieval epic and romance, in all its diversity across various literary traditions.

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