The advent of digital databases allows for quantitative research at a volume never imagined before. Reviewing large pools of data and refining them through the use of search and filter options can reveal otherwise invisible cultural trends, as some patterns emerge from a high-volume perspective. As Geoffrey Nunberg writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Humanists and social scientists have been doing quantitative corpus research for a long time, in fields like linguistics, political science, and intellectual history" ("Counting on Google Books"). Quantitative data can help support the other claims and research occurring within the field. As books and bibliographical information becomes increasingly available digitally, quantitative data is becoming increasingly more valuable to Literary Studies as well (advanced by theorists such as Franco Moretti and research teams such as the one behind culturomics.org)
Providing Emerson's Library digitally allows users to access these statistics on a personal scale. What genres of books were important enough for Emerson to own? How do the authors genders break down percentage-wise over the near 1,700 books physically present in Emerson's house? What languages and nationalities are represented in this collection, and to what degree? These questions can now be answered quantitatively, providing individuals with a place to start theorizing and studying the bibliographical trends of Early America through the personal libraries of influential authors.
Below are a few examples of the data already collected through LibraryThing and available for interpretation.
A quantitative look at Emerson's Library reveals the huge disparity between male- and female-authored books in his collection. The piechart indicates a 7:1 ration of male to female authors represented in his personal collection. Such a disparity between the genders may introduce a variety of questions about Emerson and print culture in Early American society.
- How does the power dynamics between men and women thinkers at the time correspond to Emerson's collection?
- What genre of texts are are represented in Emerson's library and from what gender perspective are these genres emerging from?
The nationality, too, may be traced using Emerson's Library database. Emerson had an vast knowledge of world language, owning books written in several different languages, including some in Sanskrit. In addition to these texts in various languages, Emerson had an impressive collection of translated works. The degree to which Emerson's shelves represent these several nations may create a starting place in contextualizing Emerson's philosophy.
- What nation's thinkers most prominently populate Emerson's library? How is this apparent in his works?
- What conclusions can we develop from exploring the number of UK/England texts against the number of American texts readily available to Emerson in his home? How does this influence Emerson's design to create a new American aesthetic?
A variety of statistics and quantitative data is available through the comprehensive database at LibraryThing. You can visit the stats page specifically here. This page acts as a great starting point to viewing what exactly can be gained through the quantitative research of literature; however, the list of stats is far from exhaustive, and we invite you to use the database available and its browsing, tagging, searching, and sorting capabilities to explore additional methods of organization and presentation.