Week nineteen: Visualizing literary history

 We will continue our quantitative analysis of literature by analyzing aspects of texts that are not the text itself (i.e. meta-data) to enable a distance reading of literary history. We will analyse the issue of genre and fiction in the eigheenth-century by examing titles. We wil then refine this by analysing the relationship between specific eighteenth-century publishers and certain genres, and then looking at the issue of authorship. The tools we used in the previous sessions did not allow these kinds of search, so this week we will use one database that enables this metadata searching: the English Short Title Catalogue (link in ‘Databases and Resources’). For a brief outline of the ESTC: see the wikipedia piece here. This session will also examine how we read quantitative information by practising visualizing our results with some simple graphics.

In preparation

  1. Click on the link to the ESTC  > ‘Search the ESTC’ > ‘Advanced Search’.
  2. Using the drop-down menu ‘Search by’ select ‘Genre (subject)’, and enter ‘fiction’. Limit your date range to ‘1660 -> 1799’ (important: you must use the sign -> between dates or it will not return any results).
  3. You will get a lot of hits: record the number of results.
  4. Now click on the number to see the catalogue records. Click on ‘refine’ and choose ‘words in title’. Now we will test keywords in the titles of these works. Record the number of results for each search. (NB. By clicking on ‘select all’ you can email the results for each search to yourself for future reference). Try each of these title keywords:
  • Novel
  • History
  • Adventures
  • Memoirs
  • Account
  • Narrative
  • Romance
  1. Now repeat steps 1. and 2. This time, select an additional drop-down option ‘Publisher’, and enter any one of these names:
  • Tonson
  • Roberts
  • Murray
  • Longman
  • Strahan
  • Millar
  • Dodsley
  • Noble
  1. This will return a much smaller number of hits (NB. By clicking on ‘select all’ you can email the results for each search to yourself for future reference). Click on each individual title and record the full title of each hit.
  2. Now pick out what you think are the key words in these titles – record these too.
  3. You can also look at the authors within this small list. Record how many are:
  • Male
  • Female
  • Anonymous
  • pseudonymous

Visualizing literary history

  1. Using the results from steps 3, 7 and 8. create a pie-chart for each set of results using http://www.piechartmaker.co.uk/ (link in ‘Tools’)
  2. Choose one of the above set of results and create your own graphic, using any option you like from http://piktochart.com/ (link in ‘Tools’)
  3. In the session be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of your choice of visualizing the data. Which methods create most meaning? Are some graphics less successful? Why?