Literary historians have long been interested in sociological approaches to literature. The field of modernism, a major aesthetic movement that flourished between 1915-40 primarily in the United States, England, and Europe, but the rest of the world as well, has been seen as a particularly compelling site to explore the sociological underpinnings of art. It is in this movement that many of our ideas of the “autonomy of art” and the “genius” of the artist emerged, and scholars such as Lawrence Rainey have produced excellent, archive-driven accounts of the institutions, patronage systems, and personal networks that conditioned and produced this field of production.
In this essay, we exploit new methods of aggregating vast amounts of bibliographic data and new network visualization tools to “scale up” this sociological approach to modernism. While scholars such as Rainey have been limited by the contours of specific institutional or writer archives, and the self-reported accounts of the field by the writers themselves, our approach transforms large empirical bibliographic data, regarding which poets published where and when, into network visualizations that provide a panoptic view of the modernist field as a whole. We then use these visualizations to develop a body of new conceptual categories, such as “brokerage” and “closure,” to analyze the structural relations between poets and how their interactions help to constitute the field of modernist poetry as a whole.