Challenging pre-conceived ideas is always a tricky business. But sacred cows are meat and drink to academics, and Dr Katherine Bode, in her project, Reading By Numbers, has not shirked the job of challenging accepted ideas about Australian novels and their history.
And she used AustLit to help her do it.
The established arguments Bode investigates include:
- that colonial authors were entirely – or even predominantly – reliant on British publishers (they weren't)
- that men were the most successful authors of nineteenth-century Australian novels (also untrue; women outstripped men in the lucrative serial writing field and in the frequency of book publication in Britain).
Bode also challenges the notion that contemporary Australian literature and publishing are in crisis because of the dominance of multinational publishing conglomerates.
To make her case, Bode used AustLit data to analyse the historical reality. She published the results in her new book Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field (London: Anthem Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780857284549).
In her introduction, she sets out her arguments for a new history of the Australian novel and describes her methods.
'In the popular imagination, archives remain dusty, hidden, forgotten places; in fact, they are increasingly likely to be digital and available online. By changing the form that archives take, technology also transforms the ways in which they can be searched and the types of questions that can be asked of them. This shift affords opportunities for more extensive, data-rich and quantitative approaches to literary historical scholarship. But it does not negate – it actually increases – the potential for what we find in the archives to challenge and transform the way we understand the past.'
Bode's research was an AustLit-supported project, funded through an Australian Research Council Discovery grant. For anyone wondering what 'digitial humanities' means, here is a perfect example. AustLit would be happy to hear from other scholars who would like to mine its vast body of resources for research.
As Bode graciously says about AustLit: 'Australia is leading the world in the scope and comprehensiveness of its digital bibliographical archive'.
On the project page, Bode has made her datasets available for other scholars, believing there are many other research areas that could be investigated using them. Two that are available are:
- Australian Novels, 1830 to 1899
- Australian Novels, 1945 to 2009
But there are others, including material on the critical attention paid to novelists by newpapers and academic journals. Please let us know if you would like to work with us.