In our MA in Literature, Landscape & Environment me and my students have been looking at the influence of Virgil’s Georgics in eighteenth-century literature, and the theme of change and decay came up fairly frequently in our discussions. Indeed, the ‘Preface’ to Daniel Defoe’s A Tour ‘thro the Whole Island of Great Britain emphasises this aspect as key to understanding Britain in the 1720s:
The Fate of Things gives a new Face to Things … plants and supplants Families, … Great Towns decay, and small Towns rise; … great Rivers and good Harbours dry up, and grow useless; again, new Ports are open’d, Brooks are made Rivers, … navigable Ports and Harbours are made where none were before, and the like.
Defoe’s particular emphasis on change in the British nation can be seen by the simple expedient of counting up how many times he uses the word ‘new’ in the Preface (thirteen times). Even more striking is to see this visualisation of a word frequency analysis (using Voyant):
On the face of it, Defoe pays equal attention to rise and decay, but – like Virgil’s Georgics – the aspect of dynamism in the nation’s landscape that Defoe gets most excited about is one of vital newness. (For another reading of mutability in the Tour and the city of London, see my post ‘Defoe, Google, cities and Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’.)
 Defoe, A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (London: printed, and sold by G. Strahan, … MDCCXXIV ), p. iv. [ECCO, 5/12/15].
Last week I volunteered to chair some sessions for the MIX: Writing Digital conference at Bath Spa University. The conference brought together a wonderful and eclectic mix of creative digital writing and trans-media publishing projects. As perhaps the only literary-critical scholar at the conference (and an eighteenth-centurist to boot), I was on the borders of a lot of the discussions taking place – enjoyable and intriguing though they were. It was perhaps this that led me to play around with my engagement with the conference. So below are some visualisations of the conference programme – in this case the programme also included bios of the delegates and abstracts of the presentations, so it’s reasonably representative of the conference’s themes . The first is a word-frequency analysis of the conference programme using Voyant Cirrus, but with some of the obvious large-frequency words – like ‘University’ ‘Writing’ and ‘Digital’ – edited out, a move that I think brings out some of the finer detail of the conference’s themes.
Given so many of the projects and writings discussed during the conference were thinking through the possibilities offered by asychronous engagements with text, it seemed apposite that this kind of playing around with various analysers offered another way of engaging with the various texts of conference.