Created by Professor Janine Barchas and her team at the University of Texas at Austin, this is an example of a simple but effective digital humanities project that provides a recreation of a museum exhibition that Jane Austen visited during May 1813. View an article here that describes the process of creating this digital project.
On 24 May 1813, Jane Austen visited an important and much-talked-about art exhibit at the British Institution in Pall Mall, London. The show was a retrospective of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), England’s celebrated portrait painter.
No visual record of this show is known to have survived, although it attracted hundreds of daily visitors during its much-publicized three-month run. However, many details of the exhibit can be reconstructed from the original 1813 “Catalogue of Pictures,” a one-shilling pamphlet purchased by visitors as a guide through the three large rooms where hung 141 paintings by Reynolds. Armed with surviving copies of this pamphlet, narrative accounts in nineteenth-century newspapers and books, and precise architectural measurements of the British Institution’s exhibit space, this website reconstructs the Reynolds show as Jane Austen (as well as any Jane Doe) saw it.
A recent study has found, Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.
These two were “the literary equivalent of Homo erectus, or, if you prefer, Adam and Eve,” Matthew L. Jockers wrote in research published last year. He based his conclusion on an analysis of 3,592 works published from 1780 to 1900. It was a lot of digging, and a computer did it.
Literary History, Seen Through Big Data’s Lens – NYTimes.com.
This kind of literary macro-history is fascinating, because it takes advantage of a wider lens than we have yet been able to wield. Of course, any attempts at quantifying the slippery concept of literary influence are subject to limitations; but scientists understand this, and make clear that such empiricized measures rely on assumptions that may prove to be false. Thus the measures themselves have to be tested and tweaked. The problem is that scientists understand this better than many literary scholars do. Literary scholars often assume that their methods are accurate measures of what they are trying to gauge. The concept of literary influence is one such (often) unexamined assumption.