CREATE Seminar

CREATE Seminar
22 May 2017, 5.00pm - 7.00pm
Bloomsbury Room, G35, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Studying cultural change through the quantitative history of visual culture: Two case studies

Olivier Morin (Max Planck Institute)


The visual culture of Europe is one of the best documented; it readily lends itself to quantitative approaches. Two studies will be presented that use visual culture to test hypotheses coming from the emerging field of cultural evolution. One studies the diffusion, during the Renaissance, of a portraiture style where portraits seem to gaze at the viewer. The success of direct-gaze portraits is not surprising given what psychologists know about the saliency of direct-gaze stimuli. A historical and quantitative analysis of the spread of this style reveals that its spread was surprisingly slow, and constrained by generational dynamics. Our second case study focuses on the diffusion of heraldic designs on coats of arms (between the late middle ages and early modern times). These designs could spread by imitation, but given the limited number of motifs and tinctures, the chances for some of them of being independently reinvented were substantial. A model which assumes that heraldic designs diffuse by independent reinvention only was tested on two heraldic corpus. The model predicts the appearance of actual designs in the historical record with surprising precision. These two studies suggest ways that a quantified history of visual culture can shed light on mechanisms of cultural diffusion on a large scale.



The Centre for Research in Experimental Aesthetics, Technology and Engineering (CREATE) emerged out of a partnership between the Institute of Philosophy#s Centre for the study of the Senses and the Warburg Institute. 


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