Quantitative literary studies is often understood as homogeneous in its methods; many literary scholars also perceive the field as incapable of contributing literary-critical or historical insight.1 This article contests both perceptions—but not by arguing that quantitative literary research is inevitably sound, justified, or beneficial. Rather, I elaborate and extend an ongoing disagreement with considerable bearing on the current state and future of the field. That disagreement is between what I will call its scholarly and its statistical approaches: between those who maintain that literary insight depends on critically analyzing and historicizing data sets prior to statistical analysis of patterns and trends, and those who claim that statistical analysis, in the absence of or with minimal investigation and contextualization of data sets, is sufficient for critical and historical understanding.

One side of this disagreement is forcefully expressed in Ted Underwood’s Distant Horizons...

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