- Toward a Bibliometric History of Romantic Studies
The current state of scholarship on British Romanticism can be difficult to describe for several reasons. Each of us reads and cites other scholarship selectively. Conferences can reflect the collective interests of the field, but we take different paths through them and have only a partial sense of larger trends. Although feminist scholars of Romantic literature have given us the best data about how Romanticism is taught—i.e., Harriet Kramer Linkin's 1991 survey about teaching [End Page 124] and Michelle Levy and Mark Perry's 2015 analysis of anthologies—we have no such data about scholarship.1 To address these issues, we've been undertaking a bibliometric study of Romantic scholarship and share some preliminary findings here.
Who are the most discussed Romantic-era authors in journal articles and conference papers? For this question, our data set consists of the most recent ten years (2010-2019) of Studies in Romanticism (SIR) and European Romantic Review (ERR), totaling 652 journal articles, and the most recent seven years of NASSR conference programs (2013-2019) available online, totaling 2,079 paper, plenary talk, and seminar titles. For the articles, we got Romantic-era authors and other persons' (e.g., historical figures, literary theorists) names from each article's metadata, where they are given within "Subjects" along with other keywords. For conference papers, we got names from paper titles; when no name was given, we manually added names when they were inferable. But not all articles or conference titles are associated with names.2 There were 538 unique names, from Joseph Addison to Arthur Young, and we calculated the "discussion share" for each of them: approximately how much each name is discussed at conferences and in journals.
We found that the "big six" authors (William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats), even though they remain among the most discussed, is neither an accurate category nor a meaningful reference point for describing [End Page 125] Romantic studies in recent years. First, the "big six" is perhaps a more useful way to describe teaching than scholarship. Whereas nearly two thirds of anthology pages have in the past been devoted to these six authors,3 the reverse proportion is true of articles and conference papers: the big six account for 32.5% of all names, while other authors make up the other two thirds. Second, the big six are not exactly the six most discussed authors in articles and at conferences (see Fig. 1).
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Third, from our data we get a distribution with one whale of an author (William Wordsworth) who's discussed half as much again as the next author, a next tier of moderately discussed authors (the next 7 or 11, depending on how you want to look at it), followed by more than 500 infrequently discussed figures, each of whose names makes up less than 0.5% of all names. In short, we have a mega author, a small middle, and a very long tail marked by great heterogeneity. As we proceed with our larger analysis, where we'll be looking at more journals and going back several decades, our hypothesis is that there are at least two key processes at work. The first is literary historical consolidation: as remote historical periods (like the Romantic period) get remoter, we expect to see over the years an increasing concentration of study around exemplary authors like William Wordsworth—a taxonomic [End Page 126] bias of a particularly literary historical variety.4 The second is that we expect, at the same time, an increasing heterogenization over the past several decades of the subjects studied, including the addition of previously overlooked authors. We guess that, for the most part, these authors remain on the long tail, although a few gradually enter the middle tier. Given perennial calls to rethink our field and yet the lack of data on scholarship, it's our guiding sense that it will be worthwhile to get better...