Estimating the Loss of Medieval Literature with an Unseen Species Model from Ecodiversity

Mike Kestemont, F.B. Karsdorp

Research output: Chapter in book/volumeContribution to conference proceedingsScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The century-long loss of documents is one of the major impediments to the study of historic literature. Here we focus on Middle Dutch chivalric epics (ca. 1200-1450), a genre for which little archival records exist that shed light on the survival rates of works and documents. We cast the quantitative estimation of these survival rates as a variant of the unseen species problem from ecodiversity. We apply an established non-parametric method ( Chao1 ) and compare it to a number of common alternatives on simulated data. Finally, we discuss the implications of our results for conventional philology: our numbers suggest that the losses sustained on the level of works may be more dramatic than previously imagined, whereas those at the document-level align surprisingly well with existing estimates in book history, although these were based on completely different data sources.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Workshop on Computational Humanities Research (CHR 2020)
EditorsFolgert Karsdorp, Barbara McGillivray, Adina Nerghes, Melvin Wevers
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • medieval literature
  • book history
  • unknown species problem
  • Middle Dutch
  • ecodiversity


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