Word-search technologies have played a significant role in literary scholarship for decades, yet they have received little attention from literary theorists. This paper considers how we might more thoughtfully approach the use of search in navigating cultural material from the nineteenth century. Taking the writings of Walt Whitman as both an example and a theoretical foil, I argue that the use of these tools can amplify historical differences in word use that are relatively unimportant to close reading, influencing what sorts of texts we read in ways that are not immediately apparent. I suggest that if we as literary scholars are to use word search in our research, we should approach it from a philological point of view, actively exploring the limits of our knowledge about the linguistic practices of the past and considering the effects of technological mediation on our encounters with historical texts.

You do not currently have access to this content.