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Changing song traditions

A fundamental question in the upcoming research period into oral culture is why some cultural artifacts (such as songs and stories) are more successful than others. For example, why has Little Red Riding Hood been one of the most popular fairy tales in the western world for more than three hundred years? Why have people in the Netherlands been singing about how Kortjakje is sick for generations? Differences in popularity and cultural endurance can also exist at a more abstract level than individual cultural artifacts. For example, why have fairy tales always been extremely popular to tell, while the protest song as a genre is consistently in decline?
A central question of the song research at the Meertens Institute is how (oral) song and musical traditions in the Netherlands change or remain stable. With regard to this, special attention is given to the social and cognitive mechanisms that lie at the foundation when these song and musical traditions arise, become popular (and remain so), and then fall out of favor. For example, what is the influence of differences in social status on cultural transmission and selection and how do certain cognitive preferences impact a song’s success? In order to answer questions like these, the study is investing in the development of innovative computational models of cultural shift with which changes in cultural variation can be investigated on a large, magnified scale and in a quantitative manner. The formal and quantitative character of these models makes it possible to describe (historical) changes in song and musical traditions in a detailed, replicable, and testable way. Moreover, these models enable us to create abstractions from specific examples of musical change and draw connections to different, more general processes of cultural change. (For example, how do changes in song traditions relate to fashion trends or shifts in ideological or religious values?) This is all relevant to the research into dynamic identities in the Netherlands.

Researchers: Folgert Karsdorp, Peter van Kranenburg, Martine de Bruin, Ellen van der Grijn