Empirical Method in Literary Studies
The use of empirical methods – involving collection and analysis of data – is not new in literary studies, but it has rarely attracted any serious attention in a discipline dominated by qualitative forms of historical and hermeneutical criticism. Lately, however, scholars exploring the potential of digital tools for literary analysis as well as those proposing new articulations of literary studies with sociology have reopened the question of empirical method. In this class, we will look at some emergent quantitative approaches together with the theoretical and political debates they have occasioned. We will consider the core concept of “data” and the ontology of datasets as these pertain to literature; the kinds of research project that can or cannot be assisted by surveys, statistics, and measurements; and the social and institutional stakes of embracing a computational paradigm in the humanities. Readings are likely to include work by Tony Bennett, Pierre Bourdieu, John Frow, Hans Robert Jauss, Lisa Gittelman, David Golumbia, Wendy Griswold, Meredith Martin, Mark McGurl, Franco Moretti, Janice Radway, Ted Underwood, and others. A syllabus will be posted in mid-summer. Prospective students are welcome in the meantime to send suggestions for particular authors, readings, or units to Jim English.
This is an introductory-level graduate class, open to advanced undergraduate majors by permission. No particular background knowledge is expected and no full-length research paper will be assigned. Work for the class will consist in a number of short papers and projects, handouts, and oral presentations. Some of our class meetings will be devoted to hands-on workshops in Van Pelt library.