The Quiet Transformations of Literary Studies: What Thirteen Thousand Scholars Could Tell Us


We use quantitative methods to analyze a collection of 21,367 scholarly articles in literary studies from 1889–2013. Our approach reveals aspects of our disciplinary history that have been occluded by existing histories’ emphasis on generational and methodological conflict. We demonstrate gradual, unnoted shifts in the themes and vocabularies of scholarship—including the long rise of new subjects (like violence); we show the surprising novelty of central theoretical concepts; and we explore transformations in the shared rationales for literary scholarship that exceed the boundaries of conventional labels like “New Criticism” and “New Historicism.” Though our method uses computational tools, we not claim to provide a definitive or objective perspective on disciplinary history; instead, our approach, like the related methods of content analysis in the social sciences, allows us to pursue nuanced interpretations of the language of many texts at once.