In this series of interviews, we will present the keynote speakers at the IGEL Conference 2018.
Karina van Dalen-Oskam is professor of Computational literary studies at the University of Amsterdam, and research leader of the department of Literary studies at the Huygens institute for the History of the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
What brought you to computational literary studies in the first place, and to quantitatively studying stylistic differences in texts, but also in genres, and across time and languages?
My main interest has always been literary texts, especially prose fiction. But I also enjoyed the strict logic behind many linguistic methods, much more than the approaches I saw literary scholars use.
My first job was at the Institute for Dutch Lexicology, where I worked as a lexicographer on the Dictionary of Early Middle Dutch. Here I was introduced to corpus lexicography and corpus linguistics, and the empirical reasoning used in these disciplines perfectly agreed with me. Compiling dictionary entries gave me a lot of ideas on how to apply these methods to literary research questions. So in my own research, I started combining literary questions with corpus linguistic methodology.
To what extent would you say that this kind of computational research is empirical?
I’m a big fan of quantifying things. I see counting things and clearly describing what I count as the first necessary steps to get a clear idea of what I am studying and, next, to compare my own results with those of other scholars. So quantifying things for me is a way to help me see the bigger picture, for example the use and function of proper names in texts, oeuvres, genres, and so forth. I would call this a truly empirical approach, making my analyses verifyable and repeatable.
Your research uses computational methods for the comparative study of literary style across texts, genres, and time. To what extent does the cognitive-behavioral dimension of the reader play a role in your research?
I am very interested in adding a cognitive-behavioral dimension to my own research. I have done several reader experiments together with my team. I am unsure, however, if the IGEL-community would qualify them as thoroughly cognitive-behavioral.
Which topics will you address at the IGEL Conference 2018?
At the 2018 IGEL conference I will talk about my project The Riddle of Literary Quality. In this project, which is nearly finished, we combine stylometric and sociological methods in trying to unlock the current conventions of literary quality in the Netherlands. I will explain the reasoning behind this combination and present the results of the reader experiments and the text analysis.
What, in your perspective, is the main importance of IGEL?
Conferences such as IGEL are important to me as a researcher, on the one hand as a sounding board for my own ideas, hoping for useful comments on my presentation. On the other hand it provides me with new methods and new ideas, and possibly also with new connections leading to new collaborations. The bigger the question we are trying to answer, the more important sharing ideas and collaboration across research disciplines are. And conferences are all about sharing.
What are your expectations for the IGEL Conference 2018?
I am very happy to have been offered the opportunity to tell the IGEL members about my research. I am eager to hear their comments and to get an overview of the current research topics in the IGEL community. I am sure this will lead to interesting new connections. In the past, I have attended several conferences and meetings in Stavanger and always greatly enjoyed both the scholarly programme and the atmosphere of the city. I am looking forward to visit the city again.