I spent a lot of time collecting full texts from the 1760s with genre terms in the title as part of my project. The results are pictured in the graphs above. I calculated the percent of texts based on the list of all 1760s titles we've compiled (one of them on the initial edition-specific list and the other two on a later de-duplicated version of that list) and the (high quality) full text files I found. I double counted works that included multiple genre terms in their titles.
These graphs and the work they are based on privilege genre keywords, although most researchers and institutions digitizing files aren't usually thinking about genre when they choose what texts to work on. Genre, however, overlaps with many of the things that do motivate digitization choices - namely texts that are considered important or "good" enough to preserve. Many of my texts come from ECCO TCP, and I couldn't find a statement about their methodology (how and why they choose the texts they choose for digitization), but regardless of what that methodology is, unless it is random, it is probably influenced by what we think is "worth" preserving.
The results in this bar graph give an idea of how genre plays into this - 1760s "novels," or works that at the time were willing to claim that label, are comparatively underrepresented in digitization efforts.
What we think is good or important work, based on what we digitize, is not a novel in the 1760s. And we know that in the 1760s, "novel" was not yet an established and respectable genre. Johnson’s 1775 dictionary defines novel with the following short phrase: “A small tale, generally of love.” He diminishes the novel - it is literally small. In the explanatory quotes below (not sure if they are in the dictionary or added to the online version, but they are contemporary), the novel is qualified with “trifling” and as the possession of a coxcomb. Clearly, novel is not high art in 1755, and probably has not climbed up to that status in the five years that lead up to 1760.
Authors who chose the label novel, then, were not claiming the status of high art. Their texts were trying to achieve something else - perhaps entertainment value and commercial success. But the lack of digitized 1760s novels also tells us something about where literary research tends to look - towards what was, seemingly both then and now, considered “good” literature. Popular culture is left to the historians looking at newspaper clippings, and the underbelly of literary history is overlooked. What makes this oversight particularly interesting is the respect attributed to the term novel today. To some extent, that respect is accompanied by investment in the history of the novel, evident in something like the possibility of Gaby’s research on rise/history of the novel type classes. But that has still not translated into the creation of an accessible archive of low-brow novels.
Part of what digital humanities seems to be looking at, based on some of the things we’ve read, is the broader field of literature and literary history technology allows us to look at. But that is hard to do when the data we have access to is still dictated by the research biases that have defined much of literary scholarship.
Unfortunately, because this 2% of 1760s novels I found full texts for is only one book, I will not be using the novel category going forward with my project, and so I will continue to contribute to skewed research. But the good news is that being mindful of holes in data is at least a preliminary step in correcting them.