How did Australians in the 19th century read novels? Mostly in newspapers and mostly in serial form! This fact of reading history is at the heart of an ARC Discovery project to be commenced by Dr Katherine Bode, Head of the Digital Humanities Hub at the ANU. Dr Bode’s project explores what novels they were reading, and where in the world this fiction came from, in order to better understand how literature travelled globally during the 19th century, and how this movement of fiction shaped Australian literature and History.
During the 19th Century, Australian had an active and prolific periodical publishing industry, involving hundreds of newspapers and magazines across the colonies. The cheap price and availability of these periodicals – combined with the low level of book ownership and access to lending libraries in Australia at this time – made colonial periodicals a (if not the) major source of fiction for colonial readers. Yet in contrast to Britain and America, the importance of serial fiction for colonial publishing and reading is under-appreciated.
Many of these periodicals published serial fiction by Australian authors, but titles by overseas writers are estimated to have outnumbered local titles by four to one. While the Australian titles that appeared in serialised form have largely been identified, almost nothing is known about the overseas novels serialised in colonial periodicals, including the titles, authors and themes, and their circulation and reception in the colonies.
Mining the National Library of Australia’s Trove database, and using emerging digital humanities methods, makes exploring this neglected area of Australia’s literary and cultural history possible for the first time in a systematic and reliable way. In this way, the project will significantly enhance our understanding of colonial literary culture and society, and its relationship to the world. Methodologically, the project will investigate the challenges and insights provide by combining quantitative data- and text-mining approaches with more traditional textual analyses.
The project will endeavour to understand:
the development and operations of Australian 19th century print culture
the nature and meaning of reading in the colonies
the flow and articulation of ideas and identities in periodicals.
In particular, the project focuses on transnational origins of and influences on Australian literary culture, as well as how the colonial circulation of British and American fiction changes the literary history of those countries.
» Dr Katherine Bode’s profile
» ANU Digital Humanities Hub
» Trove at the National Library of Australia