In Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers were the main source of fiction, local and imported. Fast forward to the 21st century, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove database hosts the largest open-access, mass-digitized collection of historical newspapers internationally. This fortunate confluence of technological systems (newspapers and mass-digitization) made possible the discovery of a transnational collection of over 21,000 publications of novels, novellas and short stories in early Australian newspapers. With reference to this massively expanded record of fiction in Australia and Australian fiction, this paper poses some key questions for literary and reading history in the mass-digitised age. Is bigger always better in statistical literary research, or is the situation more complex? What new data-rich methods are useful for literary and reading history? And what happens to all this data when our projects finish?
Katherine Bode is an associate professor of literary and textual studies at the Australian National University. She is the author or co-editor of books including A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (2018), Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories (2014), Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field (2012) and Resourceful Reading: eResearch, the New Empiricism, and Australian Literary Culture (2009).