What can evolutionary methods teach textual and literary scholars?

When a text was copied by hand, it changed; and these changes lived on in subsequent copies; an author may innovate in a genre, and those innovations may prove popular and be widely reproduced. This is to some extent analogous to the changing characteristics of species over evolutionary time in biology. In this project, we will use so-called ‘phylogenetic comparative methods’ developed in evolutionary biology to study the change of these key literary ‘innovations’. This will not only help us to reconstruct the history of these innovations, but may also provide fascinating insights into the factors behind this literary evolution.

Dr. Gijsbert Werner, Junior Research Fellow Balliol, Newton Fellow Department of Zoology

Professor Adam Smyth, Professor of English Literature, Tutor in English Literature Balliol

Dr. Matthew Robinson, Associate Professor, Fellow and Tutor in Latin Literature, Balliol