While it may seem that there are a tremendous number of works that have been canonized, the reality is that the list of canonized works pales in comparison to the totality of published works for most given eras. The attempt to gain a picture of societal trends from such a small sample size will inevitably give a skewed and incomplete picture. Franco Moretti suggests that instead of using close reading to gauge literary trends, researchers should instead adopt a quantitative approach to construct, “A more rational literary history” (68).
The ideas that Moretti presents in his book Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, while not directly connected to digital humanities, carry a relationship to the endeavors of DH’ers. The approach that Moretti advocates for examines literature in a much larger lens, the span of an entire literary movement. This approach inherently lends itself to data visualizations that can be expressed effectively through the work of digital humanities. The ups and downs of authorial popularity, genre readership, and stylistic trends all reflect well in visualization projects.
However, this trend-based approach also raises some questions for digital humanists. Should our work be exclusively focused on the big picture? Is there an ideal balance between using digital tools for close and distance readings? What is the optimal way for literary studies to continue into the modern era? How much of the change to literary studies is the movement of digital humanities and how much of it is the fact that we are now digital humans? Only with a critical mindset and a persistence for experimentation can we begin to answer these questions.
Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. Verso, 2007. Online.