Humans exhibit a species-unique capacity for long-term planning and future-oriented cognition. This ‘deep temporality’ is so fundamental to human behavior, that it can be considered the hallmark of our symbolically mediated environmental interactions. Cultural systems of symbolic production therefore exhibit long-range temporal dependencies and non-linear dynamics that can present a challenge to conventional methods in culture research. In this talk we present an approach that combines Latent Dirichlet Allocation and Adaptive Fractal Analysis with concepts from Information Theory in order to detect change points and anomalies in cultural systems. To illustrate the approach’s application, we use two different dynamic cultural systems:
the collected writings of an influential Danish pastor and liberal thinker, N.F.S. Grundtvig;
and the Classical Chinese Book of History (Shang Shu) from the ctext corpus.
We argue that, when combined with sufficient domain knowledge in language and culture, the approach can be used to validate a set of generic theoretical claims about cultural stability and change.