Resourceful Reading

This project was funded by an ARC Discovery Grant, from 2007 to 2010, involving distinct but interlinked projects by myself, and Professors Leigh Dale, Robert Dixon and Gillian Whitlock. It used data in what were then new, online collections to demonstrate the potential of a data-rich, empirical approach to produce new questions and answers for Australian literary criticism and history.

My project extracted and modelled data from AustLit to explore Australian literary and publishing history from a quantitative perspective. This approach provides opportunities to ask simple but broad questions about Australian literature, such as:

  • How has the publication of Australian novels changed over time?
  • Do any trends in the gender of Australian authors emerge?
  • Do trends in Australian literature correspond to those in other national literatures?

Such questions have been asked and answered in the past, but predominantly on the basis of close readings of individual texts rather than data. In many cases, the results of quantitative analysis challenged the answers that had previously been given to these questions and offered new insights, including into gender trends in the authorship of novels; the formation of fictional genres and literary canons; publishing industry dynamics and shifts; the relationship between publication of different fictional forms, such as novels and poetry; the interactions between literary production and criticism; and the relationship between national dynamics and transnational movements and trends.

Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field

Reading by Numbers proposes and demonstrates a new digital approach to literary history. Its methodological framework combines book history’s pragmatic approach to historical literary data with the digital humanities’ notion of modelling as as experimental and iterative practice. In demonstrating critical ways in which the growing number of digital archives in the humanities can be mined, modelled and visualised, the book offers new directions and scope for digital humanities research.

Drawing on bibliographical information on the Australian novel in the AustLit database, the book then provides a new history of the Australian novel, focusing on the nineteenth century and the decades since the end of the Second World War, and engaging with a range of themes including literary and cultural value, authorship, gender, genre and the transnational circulation of fiction. The book’s findings challenge established arguments in Australian literary studies, book history, feminism and gender studies, while presenting innovative ways of understanding literature, publishing, authorship and reading, and the relationships between them.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Reading by Numbers.

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

Arising from the first symposium to introduce, describe and apply digital approaches to Australian literary studies, this interdisciplinary collection of essays provides the first account of digital research and the new empiricism as they are transforming the field of Australian literary studies. Effects explored and demonstrated in the collection include the exponential expansion of the online research environment, the rise of book history, print culture studies, the history of reading and publishing, and the resulting transformation of Australian literary criticism and history. The essays range from accounts of the state and future of the discipline in its international contexts, to exemplary applications of empirical methods by leading and emerging critics and scholars. Reports of large-scale online projects that represent a significant future direction of literary studies in Australia are also included. Together, they demonstrate the possibilities and the range of new empirical and electronic approaches to Australian literary studies.

Resourceful Reading Datasets

The following datasets underpin the graphs and my arguments in Reading by Numbers:

1. Australian Novels, 1830 to 1899

2. Australian Novels, 1945 to 2009

3. Critical Attention to Australian Novelists Overall, 1945 to 2006

4. Critical Attention to Australian Novelists in Newspapers, 1950 to 2006

5. Critical Attention to Australian Novelists in Academic (Peer-Reviewed) Journals, 1950 to 2006

For information on why I have made these datasets available and what they contain see my data page.

For other publications from this project see:

  • ‘“Sidelines” and Tradelines: Publishing the Australian Novel, 1860 to 1899,’ in Book History 15 (2012): 93–122. [here]
  • ‘Publishing and Australian Literature: Crisis, Decline or Transformation?’, in Cultural Studies Review 16.2 (2010): 24–48. [here]
  • ‘Resourceful Reading: A New Empiricism in the Digital Age?’ with Robert Dixon in Resourceful Reading: The New Empiricism, eResearch and Australian Literary Culture. Ed. Katherine Bode and Robert Dixon. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2009. 1–27.
  • ‘Along Gender Lines: Reassessing Relationships between Australian Novels, Gender and Genre from 1930 to 2006,’ in Australian Literary Studies 24.3-4 (2009): 79–95. [here]
  • ‘Graphically Gendered: A Quantitative Study of the Relationships between Australian Novels and Gender from the 1830s to the 1930s,’ in Australian Feminist Studies 23.58 (2008): 435–50. [here]
  • ‘Beyond the Colonial Present: Quantitative Analysis, “Resourceful Reading” and Australian Literary Studies’, in JASAL Special Issue: The Colonial Present, edited by Gillian Whitlock and Victoria Kuttainen, (2008): 184–97. [here]




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