Workshop by Jamie Tehrani

Phylomemetics – The Descent with Modification of Culture

Part 1. Lecture

Phylogenetic methods were originally developed to study the evolutionary relationships among biological species, but in recent years have been adopted by a growing number of researchers in the humanities and social sciences to investigate the historical development of cultural traditions. Following the convention of referring to elements of cultural transmission as “memes”, Howe and Windram propose the term “phylomemetics” to describe this research. In this lecture I will present case studies that demonstrate how phylomemetics has been applied to ask various kinds of questions of various kinds of cultural traditions. I will also discuss some of the controversies and criticisms of the approach, and invite participants to consider the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution.

Suggested readings
Howe, C. J., Windram, H. F. 2011. Phylomemetics—Evolutionary Analysis beyond the Gene. PLoS Biol 9(5): e1001069
Tehrani, J. J. 2010. The past and future of the evolutionary taxonomy of cultures. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8(2): 169–182.
Howe, C. J., Windram, H. F. 2011. Phylomemetics—Evolutionary Analysis beyond the GenePLoS Biol 9(5): e1001069
Tehrani, J. 2011. Patterns of evolution in Iranian tribal textiles. Evolution: Education and Outreach DOI 10.1007/s12052-011-0345-2

Part 2. Practical

In this session we will put phylomemetics into practice by analysing a dataset of folktales using the popular (and free!) software programme Mesquite. For this session, you will need laptops, so bring them along.

Suggested readings
Tehrani, J. J. (2013). The phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PloS ONE (8).