A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 3.24.31 pm - Version 2(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018)

Mass-digitised collections are an increasingly important part of knowledge infrastructure for literary history and the humanities generally. This book explores the requirements and possibilities of research in this context. In investigating over 9,200 works of extended fiction identified in the largest open-access collection of mass-digitised historical newspapers internationally, it shows how data-rich approaches to literary history can revolutionise our understanding of literature in the past, including the categories and conceptual frameworks through which we perceive it.

Open Access version

Digital Appendixes

Selected Reviews

“This is a book with many virtues. It deftly elaborates the relationship between process and product, exhuming scholarly decisions about data that are often buried in footnotes. It is both wide-ranging and precise methodologically. Most significantly, it demonstrates the potential for data-rich literary methods to intervene in long-standing debates in literary history, explicitly engaging the potential that more evangelistic modes of DH too often only hint at. … Above all, A World of Fiction is hopeful, envisioning a promising future for data-rich literary history.”­ [link to full review]
—Laura B. McGrath, Post45

“Possibly the most important book of this year for its mix of specific findings and theoretical innovation, and for the amount of work checking over 9,000 pieces of fiction in the TROVE database, Katherine Bode’s A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History mounts a cogent attack on ‘distant reading’ and other digital analyses, and builds a new picture of nineteenth-century Australian fiction.”
—Benjamin Miller and Paul Sharrad, The Year’s Work in English Studies (XVII New Literatures 2. Australia)

“Bode has written a bold and illuminating book. A World of Fiction … asks difficult questions and is ground breaking in its interpretations … [with] important implications for literary studies writ large. … Bode provides a combination of attentiveness to detail and a capacity for large arguments. The results are powerful: her scholarship is as expansive in scope as it is scrupulous in method. A World of Fiction makes a landmark contribution to literary studies and digital humanities.” [link to full review]
—Kenneth Price, Australian Literary Studies 

A World of Fiction is an important work of scholarship that should be read, at the least, by scholars in digital humanities, nineteenth-century studies, book history, periodical studies, and library science. The book should certainly become a standard reference point in courses on humanities data analysis, cultural analytics, distant reading, and related methods. Bode brings the two poles of digital textual studies together compellingly, demonstrating how computational analyses might bring nuance and complexity to our readings of digitized archives of historical texts, and how the contours of those archives — the circumstances of their collection, selection, and digitization practices — might shape the framing of data-rich analyses. Her computational work is founded on and helps build a critical edition; the two activities are mutually imbricated rather than unfolding as distinct projects. Rather than restricting the work, Bode’s firm disciplinary perspective ensures that the book’s claims will resonate with area scholars: that the interpretive consequences of her computational work are clear. Bode’s book productively challenges the dominant paradigms of ‘distant reading,’ offering a more nuanced path forward for practitioners while inviting a much wider range of scholars to the data discussion.”­ [link to full review]
—Ryan Cordell, Digital Humanities Quarterly

“As a sign of the strength of Bode’s work, many of her concepts (for example, the importance of documenting and sharing data, and the emphasis on book history) have now been widely taken on board by the digital humanities community. For Victorianists, A World of Fiction is both a guidebook to digital engagement with the past and a nuanced report on Australian literary publishing in the nineteenth century.” [link to full review]
—Andrew Stauffer, Victorian Studies 

“The book’s subtitle may sound far-reaching, but the book delivers. It is both timely and exciting. … Bode’s fine scholarship will leave academic readers anxious to see how she next breaks ground. … Highly recommended.”
—C. Huffaker, Choice

“Through her research and publications over the past decade, Katherine Bode has been one of the leaders in the development of the digital humanities in Australia … In A World of Fiction … Katherine Bode  has certainly fulfilled her aim to open up ‘a world of possibilities’ for future research by both book historians and literary scholars on the local and international fiction published in Australian newspapers during the nineteenth century.”
—Elizabeth Webby, Script & Print

“Bode has been influential in Australian literary studies since she began publishing about a decade ago, and there is no doubt this book will be a field-defining intervention. It is a model of scholarly work, especially in its redefining of the literary system. Literary history and digital literary humanities are lucky to have such an intellectually accomplished and confident worker in the field.”
—Professor Philip Mead, University of Western Australia

“A major international intervention in the fields of book history and digital humanities research, and a major recalibration of the relationship between Australian literature and world literary studies. A World of Fiction will have a significant impact.”­
—Professor Robert Dixon, The University of Sydney

“A terrific intellectual force. Excellent and lucid. This is a first-rate contribution to digital humanities and literary textual scholarship.”
—Professor Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

“How I Pawned My Opals” and Other Lost Fiction by Catherine Martin 

(Canberra: Orbiter Press, 2017)

opals.pngThis book collects for the first time and restores to readers five previously lost stories by Catherine Martin: South Australian feminist, socialist, world traveler, and one of Australia’s most important nineteenth-century authors. In literary criticism of the 1890s, Martin features alongside writers such as Rolf Boldrewood, Ada Cambridge, Henry Kingsley and Catherine Helen Spence as a key figure of the emerging Australian literary tradition. As was the case for all of these nineteenth-century authors, Martin’s stories were published in newspapers. But her habit of publishing anonymously or under pseudonyms means that these stories have until now been unknown to contemporary readers, even as her major works – An Australian Girl, The Silent Sea and The Incredible Journey – have continued to be reissued, read and discussed. In collecting these stories this book enables a fuller sense of Martin’s literary career, including the strong connections between her major works, life, and newspaper fiction. It also presents nineteenth-century Australia writing that is intrinsically interesting, often humorous, and always thought-provoking.

Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theory

Co-edited with Paul Arthur (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)


Advancing Digital Humanities moves beyond definition of this dynamic and fast growing field to show how its arguments, analyses, findings and theories are pioneering new directions in the humanities globally.

Selected Reviews

“Defining Digital Humanities by what it does rather than wrestling with definitions of what it is, the essays in this vibrant anthology are reports of substantive engagements with the intellectual dimensions of technological tools. Each project in this collection starts from research in a core humanities discipline – literature, history, cultural studies – and extends its question of style, authorship, influence, production and reception practices through digital means. They show how approaches once remote from humanistic inquiry – data mining, natural language processing, linked open data, and display platforms for visualization and spatial information – are now integral to the intellectual life of the humanities, building on and extending traditional approaches to reading, editing, and interpretation. An excellent volume for those new to the field as well as insiders, each of whom will take away something of value from the carefully crafted insights of these essays.” – Johanna Drucker, Breslauer Professor of Bibliography, Information Studies, UCLA

“This collection of essays is an essential travel guide for anyone who wishes to venture into the varied, complex and challenging intellectual terrain of the digital humanities. The volume moves discussion of digital humanities beyond arid debates about the definition of the field and illustrates the wider theoretical and cultural vistas that the digital humanities are opening up. This compelling collection of thought-provoking essays vividly illustrates how humanities scholars are using digital methods to refashion our cultural understanding and transform representations of knowledge across subjects ranging from Dickens to the Twittersphere. The contributors include not only some of the most distinguished international scholars in the field, but also young researchers engaged in innovative experimentation at the digital coalface, and their energy, diversity and intellectual ambition makes this volume a captivating read. Advancing Digital Humanities is a fundamental and unmissable contribution to the intellectual and theoretical formation of this importnat new area of scholarly endeavour.” – Andrew Prescott, Professor and Head, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories is essential reading for those considering the future of our interdiscipline.” – Professor Ray Siemens, Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing, University of Victoria

“This is a considered and timely intervention with chapters by many recognised voices in the DH community as well as many not well known beyond Australasia. Rich in analysis, these authors consistently demonstrate just how pervasive digital methods and theories are in changing the ways in which we do research in the humanities.” – Professor Susan Schreibman, Professor Digital Humanities, National University of Ireland Maynooth

Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field

(London: Anthem Press, 2012)


Reading by Numbers explores the critical potential of digital humanities and quantitative methods to produce new knowledge about literary and cultural history. Based on quantitative analysis of the AustLit database, it offers a new history of the Australian novel that revises key tenets of the history of this literary form, relating to literary and cultural value, authorship, gender, genre and the transnational circulation of fiction. Reading by Numbers also proposes a new methodological framework for digital book history, which combines book history’s pragmatic approach to literary data with the digital humanities concept of modelling as an ongoing and iterative practice.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1, or find out more information about the book and the datasets it uses.

Selected Reviews

It is not often – or often enough – that one is confronted by a work that has the power to transform a field of study, but this is precisely what Katherine Bode has achieved in her new history of the Australian novel. Reading by Numbers is as exciting as it is unsettling and it offers a major intervention in Australian literary history, not least in its power to challenge both sedimented accounts of that history and the methods used to produce them.” – Associate Professor Maryanne Dever, Australian Literary Studies

Reading by Numbers is a stimulating book that brings quantitative methods to bear on longstanding questions and assumptions in Australian publishing history. Bode effectively demonstrates the value of these methods in real-world contexts without over-asserting their primacy or authority. Instead, she argues that applying numbers to literary history is one meaningful form of interpretation that is situated and malleable, given the ever-changing nature of literary records and the subjectivity of the researcher’s decision-making process. Her findings help us better understand how publication format, gender, and colonizing power affected publishing in Australia and how local authors developed their own identities alongside Britain’s influences.” – Britt Hoskins, Digital Humanities Quarterly

“Bode doesn’t pull her punches. What this book shows is that, given sufficiently extensive and longitudinal publication data, existing assumptions and generalisations about the trends of recent and historical literary publishing can be challenged in ways no longer dependent on anecdote and impression. This brings freshness to existing debates concerning historical literary publishing, both directly for Australian literature and implicitly for all others.” – Professor Paul Eggert, Loyola University Chicago

Reading by Numbers challenges current practices and theories by drawing on current work in digital humanities and book history to explore a remarkably cohesive digital literary collection. Dr Bode brilliantly demonstrates the power yet contingency and partiality of known methods and theories.” – Professor Willard McCarty, King’s College London and University of Western Sydney

Resourceful Reading: The New Empiricism, eResearch and Australian Literary Culture

Co-edited with Robert Dixon (Sydney University Press, 2009)


Resourceful Reading is the first edited collection to explore the intersection of eResearch or digital humanities methods with literary and cultural studies in Australia.

Selected Reviews

“The editors and contributors of this important volume are to be congratulated for injecting methodological dynamism and theoretical optimism into local literary studies …” – Dr Simone Murray, Reviews in Australian Literature

Resourceful Reading is … an accessible yet authoritative survey of the main resources that are being developed, the kinds of work that are now being done, and the mood of the room at this critical moment in the evolution of the eHumanities. … the contributors offer a consistently high standard of work, keenly relevant to the state of play right now and into the near future.” – Dr John Byron, Australian Book Review

“The impressive range of material assembled here demonstrates that Australian literary studies are alive and well and opens up new perspectives for future study. Further, the volume has a more general value in that by illuminating and highlighting the paradigm shift in Australian literary studies, it provides an example, and perhaps a model, that could usefully engage the reflection of other scholars across the academy who are working in the area of literary study.” – Professor Margaret Sankey, Bibliographical Society of America

Damaged Men/Desiring Women: Male Bodies in Contemporary Australian Women’s Fiction 

(VDM, 2008)

damaged men

Damaged Men/Desiring Women explores the trope of damaged male bodies in Australian novels by women, published between 1998 and 2002. It shows how female characters’ visual fascination with these damaged male bodies works in complex ways to both confirm and challenge prevailing constructions of femininity, masculinity, and the male body.

Download the book here.

Selected Reviews

“Katherine Bode’s book represents an important departure for feminist criticism and especially for Australian literary criticism. … This book is beautifully written, theoretically complex and yet not overstated.” – Professor Alison Bartlett, Australian Women’s Book Review

“… an important contribution to current scholarship in the area of contemporary Australian women’s fiction … Bode’s focus is always on the value of multiplicity in reading, an approach that is enhanced by an ambitious theoretical framework designed to continually open up interpretation and offer alternatives. … By providing such a detailed and open-ended reading of these novels, she has contributed to recent academic debates on the intersection between masculinity crisis and feminism in a way that is both thoughtful and productive.” – Sandra Knowles, Australian Feminist Studies


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