Cumulative culture in fanfiction

Evidence of cultural accumulation and improvement (re: cultural evolution theory) in AO3 fanfiction related to Harry Potter.

– 2020 –

with Alberto Acerbi (Brunel University London) and Simone Rebora (University of Verona, University of Basel)

Graph of accumulation of characters in AO3 Harry Potter stories

Using online fanfiction stories (Archive of Our Own), we tested the hypothesis — derived from cultural evolution theory — that culture evolves by increasingly accumulating cultural traits that are received by other agents, and such accumulation leads to some kind of improvement of the overall cultural system. We focused on the number of characters, relationships, and themes in 200,000 Harry Potter stories.

Tools and skills

R, tidyverse

Web scraping, informetrics, measures of performance/popularity on digital social platforms, linear regression


Pianzola, Federico, Alberto Acerbi, and Simone Rebora. 2020. “Cultural Accumulation and Improvement in Online Fan Fiction”. CHR 2020: Workshop on Computational Humanities Research, November 18–20, 2020, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. CEUR Workshop Proceedings 2723:2-11.

Data and code: