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Theorist Frequency Graph

Theorist Frequency Graph

In order to make the visualization somewhat manageable, I only counted theorists who had been taught at least twice. That was only 22 out of the 93 theorists, or 24%.

Eighteenth-Century Novel Course Syllabi: visualizations, speculation, and a plea

3 min read

When we teach the eighteenth-century novel, what novels do we teach? We talk about the narrow canon of eighteenth-century novels created by nineteenth- and twentieth-century novel theorists and literary critics - and we sometimes oppose that small set of novels to the wide world of fictions readers published and read throughout the long eighteenth century. But what is our current teaching canon? And how does it compare to the canon of novels we write about in books and articles?

Our project helps answer these questions with a series of visualizations representing novels and theorists/critics taught in twenty-five syllabi focused on the eighteenth-century novel.

Even in this draft version, you'll see some interesting (and some predictable) results: Pamela is taught A LOT (18/25 syllabi), followed at a bit of a distance by Tristram Shandy, Evelina, Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe, Oroonoko, and Northanger Abbey(see the Work Frequency graph). Ian Watt, Michael McKeon, and Nancy Armstrong are the most-taught theorists (see the Theorist Frequency graph) - but only some syllabi include critical and theoretical readings. 40% of novels taught are by written by women, and none of the novels taught have still-unknown authors.

Noteworthy in this set of syllabi, as the network of novels connected by syllabi shows us, is the strong contrast between a small set of relatively frequently-taught texts and theorists (the inner core of large nodes multiply connected to many syllabi) and the larger number of texts appearing on only one syllabus (the outer ring of texts with connections to only a single syllabus).

These visualizations are drafts; we need more syllabi than we can find in the internet (and indeed, we're worried that using syllabi available on the web may bias results)! Please SEND US YOUR SYLLABUS at earlynovelsdatabase at gmail dot com. Links or documents are welcome, as are simply the list of the novels and critical/theoretical readings you assign. If you don't want us to use your name, we won't; if you want us to use your name, we will. If you want to us to archive and make your syllabus publicly available, with your own copyright preferences, we will.


The original syllabi (or syllabuses, if you prefer) are linked here. Our principle of selection was to grab the first twenty-five English-language 18th c novel, "long history of prose fiction," or "rise of the novel" syllabi we found through web searches of related terms. Includes syllabi for a number of undergraduate and a few graduate courses.

The visualizations were created by Gaby Ekens (@gabbomatic) for END using Gephi and Excel.

The data Gaby based the visualizations on is here; if you notice errors or have questions, feel free to get in touch.

Gender breakdown of works taught across 25 syllabi

Gender breakdown of works taught across 25 syllabi

Here's a chart of male and women authors across all of the instances of works taught.

Work frequency chart

Work frequency chart

Here's a chart of all works taught at least twice throughout 25 syllabi. 32/71 works were taught more than once.

Theorist frequency

Theorist frequency

Theorist-Syllabus connections. Pink nodes = syllabus, green = theorist

This includes 13 syllabi.

18th novel syllabus connections

18th novel syllabus connections

Purple = syllabi, grey = work, edge = work is listed on a syllabus
Bigger node for purple = syllabus contains more works
Bigger node for grey = work is listed on more syllabi