Introduction by OpenMethods Editor (Maciej Maryl): This article traces complex genealogy of distant reading to social-scientific approaches in literary studies.
It has recently become common to describe all empirical approaches to literature as subfields of digital humanities. This essay argues that distant reading has a largely distinct genealogy stretching back many decades before the advent of the internet – a genealogy that is not for the most part centrally concerned with computers. It would be better to understand this field as a conversation between literary studies and social science, inititated by scholars like Raymond Williams and Janice Radway, and moving slowly toward an explicitly experimental method. Candor about the social-scientific dimension of distant reading is needed now, in order to refocus a research agenda that can drift into diffuse exploration of digital tools. Clarity on this topic might also reduce miscommunication between distant readers and digital humanists.
Original publication date: 2017.