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Novels in the News: The Reprinting of Fiction in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers

A man reads a newspaper while his wife watches their children play, mid 1800s. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

“Novels in the News: The Reprinting of Fiction in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers” investigates the republication history of novels and short fiction within the hybrid medium of the nineteenth-century newspaper. This project seeks to understand not simply which novels and stories were reprinted in newspapers, but which parts of these texts circulated most widely (and which did not), and to consider what the selection of nineteenth-century fiction can tell us about readers’ cultural, political, and aesthetic ideas in the period’s largest mass medium. “Novels in the News” takes a more focused approach than Viral Texts, using existing collections of nineteenth-century fiction—such as the Wright American Fiction archive of nearly 3,000 American novels and short story collections—as seed corpora that enable us to identify only the newspaper reprints that are drawn from this genre. Reception of fiction during the nineteenth-century could be uneven, and the circulation and reprinting of fiction could be comprised of entire novels, single chapters, or even just excerpts. By analyzing novels in their entirety, as well as by individual chapters, this project seeks to illuminate how the popular interests of the general public can be evidenced in the fiction that they found interesting and the issues they used fiction to address within the newspaper. Beginning with familiar works, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mosses from an Old Manse, this project hopes to contextualize the significance of less canonized works in order to contribute to ongoing scholarly discussions around literary popularity.

Throughout the Spring 2019 semester, “Novels in the News” began production of a web application that plans to bring the work of “Novels in the News” and Viral Texts into the public eye. The web application combines database design work and transcription forms to facilitate the submission of user-generated transcriptions of nineteenth-century texts as well as browsing through transcriptions that have already been processed by Viral Text’s reprinting detection algorithm. The launch of this web application will make interaction with scholars interested in nineteenth-century reprint history easier, allowing for research based on the project’s findings to reach broader audiences.

Principal Investigator
Avery Blankenship, Graduate Student, English

Publications and Conferences

Blankenship and Professor Ryan Cordell gave a talk on “Novels in the News” sponsored by UPenn’s Price Lab for Digital Humanities on March 5, 2020.

Blankenship presented this project at the Association for Computers and the Humanities Conference in 2019. She wrote about the conference and the project’s new goals for the NULab here.

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