Cover of Literary Mathematics by Michael Gavin
Literary Mathematics
Quantitative Theory for Textual Studies
Michael Gavin


October 2022
280 pages.
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Hardcover now $45.00 (50% off)
Paperback now $15.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503632820
Paperback ISBN: 9781503633902
Ebook ISBN: 9781503633919

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Excerpts and More

Across the humanities and social sciences, scholars increasingly use quantitative methods to study textual data. Considered together, this research represents an extraordinary event in the long history of textuality. More or less all at once, the corpus has emerged as a major genre of cultural and scientific knowledge. In Literary Mathematics, Michael Gavin grapples with this development, describing how quantitative methods for the study of textual data offer powerful tools for historical inquiry and sometimes unexpected perspectives on theoretical issues of concern to literary studies.

Student-friendly and accessible, the book advances this argument through case studies drawn from the Early English Books Online corpus. Gavin shows how a copublication network of printers and authors reveals an uncannily accurate picture of historical periodization; that a vector-space semantic model parses historical concepts in incredibly fine detail; and that a geospatial analysis of early modern discourse offers a surprising panoramic glimpse into the period's notion of world geography. Across these case studies, Gavin challenges readers to consider why corpus-based methods work so effectively and asks whether the successes of formal modeling ought to inspire humanists to reconsider fundamental theoretical assumptions about textuality and meaning. As Gavin reveals, by embracing the expressive power of mathematics, scholars can add new dimensions to digital humanities research and find new connections with the social sciences.

About the author

Michael Gavin is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina and author of The Invention of English Criticism, 1650-1760 (2015).

"Literary Mathematics is a new kind of book. A project of this scope is guaranteed to be controversial, but everyone interested in literary history will find it worth their time."

—Ted Underwood, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

"This book is a timely, well-reasoned, and readable contribution to digital humanities and literary studies. Literary Mathematics will help guide the next generation of researchers in quantitative approaches to historical and literary texts."

—Mel Evans, University of Leeds

"Theoretically, historically, and critically informed, this is the most ambitious, and practical, book I know on the computational revolution in literary studies."

—Jonathan Hope, Arizona State University

"With Literary Mathematics, Gavin achieves what he sets forth to do: demonstrate quantitative models that can be used to describe the relationships between a corpus and its source texts, facilitating insights into the culture from which these historical documents emerged. Gavin's call for 'a curious spirit' that brings 'creative, rather than merely critical, thinking' is a welcome approach. Gavin takes risks in his corpus-level analyses and asks scholars to join him by looking at thousands of texts with an openness to the possibilities of what they may find."

—Mary Learner, H-Sci-Med-Tech

"Gavin's approach will be of great value to those who have been witnessing the debate about digital humanities as a set of methods.... Literary mathematics, not just in the sense of a title, is very likely to be seen as a concept that anchors contemporary debates and trends in digital humanities in replacing computers and digital technology with math as a site of meaning making."

—Soni Wadhwa, South Atlantic Review