Evaluating Quantitative Methods in the Analysis of Victorian Novels
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Students recognize that the novel as a literary form has a powerful relation to culture. But what, precisely, is that relation, and how does it change over time? How can we find data to support or challenge our understanding of the role of the novel in culture? The Victorian novel is an ideal form to examine, since it was broadly popular and widely available (coinciding with a dramatic rise in literacy, cheaper publication methods, circulating libraries, and an explosion of new titles and sub-genres). Current research on the Victorian novel includes fascinating, even radical quantitative methods that are transforming assumptions about literary history. This assignment will explore these new methods and help students learn to understand and evaluate quantitative data in relation to literature.
- Articulate assumptions and questions about historical materials (specifically, the Victorian novel).
- Use research skills to locate quantitative resources that might support or challenge these assumptions (this is a burgeoning area in literary analysis).
- Select a quantitative resource in order to analyze its effectiveness (quantitative and visual) by considering its assumptions, its strengths, and its limitations as evidence.
- Present the quantitative example on the class MOODLE with a concise, clear, descriptive analysis and evaluation.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
Teaching Notes and Tips
Franco Moretti's work gave me a far more exciting direction, for he has created superb graphs and maps that visualize and quantify the development of the "global" novel during the Victorian period, providing a broader sense of "culture" as well as a challenging approach to understanding the form, and even projecting its future possibilities.
Having students work in pairs will allow them to share strengths. Given Carleton's graduation requirement in quantitative reasoning, this will not be a new approach for all of the students, and the assignment might be developed more fully for students with interest and background. For example, some teams with statistical experience could create their own graphs from statistical data.
References and Resources
Moretti, Franco. Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900. London, New York: Verso, 1998.
——. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary Theory. London, New York: Verso, 2005.
Carroll, Joseph. "Evolutionary Studies"—an entry for Blackwell's Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory (forthcoming)
Cohen, Patricia. "Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers." New York Times online, December 3, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/04/books/04victorian.html?adxnnl=1&emc=eta1&adxnnlx=1314117123-hkFQD3wUP6L2SPf8DamD/g
Moretti, Franco. "Narrative Markets, ca. 1850." Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring 1997), pp. 151-174. Research Foundation of SUNY.