The Novel of Research and the Turn to Reference

hypothetical Honors seminar (in progress)1
Rachel Sagner Buurma

If the twentieth century seemed like a century of representation, it may be that the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries are eras of reference. In this class, we will explore the possibilities for supplementing canonical twentieth-century theories representational theories of novelistic realism, following a recent flourishing in Victorianist criticism on referentiality in order to ask how Victorian novels may be said to refer to the real worlds their authors and readers inhabited. In order to study this theoretical question, we will turn to the set of practices and processes through which Victorian novelists gathered the things of the world into their novels: research. Reading several major and minor Victorian novels, we will trace different forms of evidence of the ways their authors searched sets of documents, took notes, and organized information to perform research of all kinds in the library and on the streets. We will examine the published and unpublished commonplace books, notecards, papers, files, and marginalia of Victorian novelists both canonical and forgotten along with published descriptions of these novelists’ research practices and their representations of research in the novels they wrote. And we will look more briefly at some forms of knowledge production – investigative journalism, ethnographic research, medical research – that shaped and were shaped by the research imaginations of Victorian novelists. In order to work our way towards a definition of what “research” meant to Victorian novels (and perhaps towards what it means to us as literary critics), we will engage with criticism and theory from a number of fields, including book history, theories of materiality, historicisms old and new, theories of narrative and realism, genetic and textual criticisms, bibliometrics, and media history and digital humanities.

This class will help you develop our skills in research in print, digital, and manuscript or typescript sources; how to use and evaluate a range of databases and digital tools; how to think about citation practices as substantive and central to our work as scholars of literature; and how to think about the different kinds of writing we do on the way to a finished essay or published article. It will as you to examine your own implicit and explicit research practices and habits, and (in some cases) to experiment with modifying them or developing new ones.


Week I: Scott’s footnotes, Austen’s details

Read or reread Persuasion and Waverley
Scott, “The Surgeon’s Daughter” from Chronicles of the Canongate
Georg Lukács, from The Historical Novel
Erich Auerbach, from Mimesis
Janine Barchas, from Matters of Fact in Jane Austen
William Galperin, from The Historical Austen

Exercise: set up Zotero & Paper Machines, examine selection of collaborative annotation programs

Week II: the realisms of research

Trollope, Barchester Towers
Realism overview: Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect”; Fredric Jameson, “The Realist
Floor-plan”; George Levine, from “The Realistic Imagination”; Joe Cleary, preface
to MLQ “Peripheral Realisms” special issue
Michel Foucault, from Discipline and Punish (background to Miller)
D.A. Miller, Intro and Barchester Towers chapters from Novel and the Police
reviews of Barchester Towers (E.S. Dallas, etc)

Exercise: explore options (digital and paper) for keeping your public research notebook

Week III: search and research

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret or Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Edward Said, from Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism
Johanna Drucker, “Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory”
Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians” and responses 2007-14 you find
Darnton, “Literary Surveillance in the British Raj” (update with text of 2013 Panizzi

Exercise: finish your first round of populating your Zotero database with the critical literature surrounding your final project

Week IV: taking notes

Charles Reade, Hard Cash
Charles Reade’s notecards
Henry Wheatley, from What is an Index?
Ann Blair, “Note-taking as Information Management” from Too Much to Know
Michel Foucault, “Classifying,” from The Order of Things
Mary Poovey, “Forgotten Writers, Neglected Histories”

Exercise: The Social Life of Academic Publishing (Via Paper Machines, use metadata from
some set of scholarly articles you are working to discover commonalities and connections between scholars and their webs of citations.)

Week V: commonplace (or, representing note-taking)

Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel or The Egoist
Meredith’s notebooks
Pre-printed forms (examples of Lett’s Extract Book, Todd’s Index Rerum, etc)
Essays in “Denotative, Technically, Literally,” ed. Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt
(special issue), Representations 125 (Winter 2014)

Exercise: Explore the Paper Machines set of tools. Then create some visualizations of your project bibliographies and compare them with the entire set of our course bibliography and our merged set of in-progress project bibliographies.

Week VI: genetic criticism, canonical research notes
Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, The Dictionary of Received Ideas
Explore and
nb: You will find you need surprisingly little (or no) French to learn something about Flaubert’s research practices from his digitized notes and manuscript pages, but give yourself time.
Selections from Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes on Roland Barthes
Selections from Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel

Exercise: draft of final project proposal prior to meetings with me

Week VII: slow research
Margaret Oliphant, Phoebe Junior and excerpts from Annals of a Publishing House
Isabel Hofmeyr, from Gandhi’s Printing Press
Peter Stallybrass, from Printing for Manuscript (manuscript of Rosenbach lectures?)
Exercise: footnote a chapter of Phoebe Junior

Exercise: locate or create digital version of your project’s main text (lab will offer help)

Week VIII: unliterary research
Edwin Chadwick, The Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of
Great Britain in 1842
Henry Mayhew, from London Labour and the London Poor
Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing
Livingstone, 1871 field diary (see also

Exercise: OCR your text, determine cleanup needs, begin cleanup (lab will offer help)

Week IX: social totalities and literary values
Middlemarch or Romola (to be decided collectively)
Quarry for Middlemarch
Amy Levy, “The Recent Telepathic Occurrence at the British Museum” and “Readers
at the British Museum”
Leah Price, Middlemarch chapter of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel
Susan David Bernstein, “Researching Romola” from Roomscapes
David Kurnick, “An Erotics of Detachment: Middlemarch and Novel-Reading as
Critical Practice”

Exercise: install MALLET, chunk your text, run MALLET (lab will offer help); in order to do this, work through the Programming Historian’s “Getting started with topic modeling and MALLET” tutorial

Week X: the research effect?
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
Literary notebooks, ‘Facts’ notebooks
Elizabeth Miller, from Slow Print
Simon Reader on Hardy’s notebooks

Exercise: think about interpretations of your MALLET-generated topics; read Miriam Posner’s “Very basic strategies for interpreting results from the topic modeling tool” first.

Week XI: 1890s coda
Bram Stoker, Dracula or Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Ann Stoler on archival form from Along the Archival Grain
“Operation Legacy” work
Readings on New Historicism and contemporary critical debates (to be determined by class)

Week XII: in progress

Week XIII: in progress

Week XIV: final project presentations, seminar dinner

  1. Acknowledgements: This syllabus draws on syllabi including Sharon Marcus and Heather Love’s 2013 Reading Methods in Literary Study; Ann Stoler’s classes on theories of the archive; Laura Heffernan’s Contemporary Novel; and the 2013 Victorian Novel Research Seminar at Swarthmore, among others. 

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