This essay examines the ways in which the single-authored, period literary history has been challenged since the original Oxford History of English Literature series appeared in the mid twentieth century. The volumes in the new Oxford English Literary History appearing in the twenty-first century, intended for the “general reader,” must negotiate charges of imposing a reductive grand narrative whose scholarship is rapidly outdated on one hand, and of working with too small a sample of texts to make historical claims on the other. The advent of electronic databases such as EEBO and ECCO invite new forms of history writing, from “distant reading” by computer, to more inclusive documentary-style formats that emphasize richness of the particular and idiosyncratic as well as reveal the larger patterns.
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Margaret J. M. Ezell; Big Books, Big Data, and Reading Literary Histories. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 September 2017; 41 (3): 3–19. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-4130753
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