It is not often- or often enough- that one is confronted by a work that has the power to transform a field of study, but this is precisely what Katherine Bode has achieved in her new history of the Australian novel. Reading By Numbers is as exciting as it is unsettling and it offers a major intervention in Australian literary history, not least in its power to challenge both sedimented accounts of that history and the methods used to the produce them. Utilising the resources of the digital humanities and book history, Bode demonstrates that the 'history of the Australian novel is comprised of a much greater variety of authors, publishers, genres and readers than any previous account has acknowledged'(170). As the title suggests, however,Reading By Numbers is more than a study of the Australian novel. It is also a nuanced appraisal of the possibilities that the digital humanities generally- and the quantitative and computational approaches made possible by online resources such as the Austlit database in particular-offer for how we do literary studies. Interestingly, this advocacy of a 'new empiricism' connects Bode's work productively to questions that are being pursued more widely in the humanities and social sciences. As Lisa Adkins and Celia Lury argue in the introduction to their aptly titled volume, Measure and Value, the transformations in measurement which the digital era has enabled force a rethinking of the relationships between quantity and quality and between measurement and valuation in ways that demand revisions not only of familiar knowledge-making practices but of the very 'stuff' we study (5-23). Bode, in this respect, uses the AustLit database to reveal among other things the intimate connections between counting and what counts that have structured the history of - and critical engagements with - the Australian novel. She makes the case for a radical rethinking of that category and the exclusions and blind-spots that have structured it as an object of study.
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