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Towards Large-scale Cultural Analytics in the Arts and Humanities

Towards Large-scale Cultural Analytics in the Arts and Humanities

An AHRC funded project, exploring how to make use of large-scale cultural events data for research

Cultural Analytics

Laptop screen showing graph

A text that has been influential for us on this project is Cultural Analytics by Lev Manovich. The focus of Manovich’s book is the computational analysis of cultural data. Our project aims to make the data stream emanating from the UK cultural events industry, including theatre, festivals, film, exhibitions, etc, accessible for computational and other forms of analyses.

Manovich asks “What does it mean to represent a cultural object, process or experience as data that can be then analyzed computationally? What elements of these objects, processes and experiences can be captured, and what remains outside?” (p.75).


But what is culture?

Before we can answer how to represent culture as data, we should probably do some work to define what ‘culture’ is.

Raymond Williams asserted that “culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” (p.76). His definition of culture as the sum of a nation’s social practices is at odds with Matthew Arnold’s understanding of culture as something elevated beyond everyday life, as perfectionism (p.6).

Cultural analytics, as a field of study, engages with both of these traditions. Its definition of culture is capacious, like Williams’, taking in what Manovich labels cultural data (photos, music, etc), cultural information (the metadata related to cultural data) and cultural discourse (reviews, ratings, etc, related to cultural data) (p.76). At the same time, data driven approaches to the humanities have been seen as another form of positivism, like Arnold’s (see Fuchs).

What is culture, and how do we represent it as data, are central questions to this project.



Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism. John Murray, 1961.

Fuchs, Christian. ‘From Digital Positivism and Administrative Big Data Analytics towards Critical Digital and Social Media Research!’ European Journal of Communication, vol. 32, no. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 37–49. SAGE Journals,

Manovich, Lev. Cultural Analytics. MIT Press, 2020.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford University Press, 1976.


(Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash)

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