Nation, Genre and Gender: A Comparative Social Network Analysis of Irish and English Fiction, 1800-1922

This three-year project, funded by the Irish Research Council, was awarded to Professor Gerardine Meaney in December 2013. Go to for the project website.

The project seeks to create an electronic corpus, drawing on existing online resources under creative Commons License and through digitisation as required, of approximately 200 Irish and English novels from the period 1800-1922. It will use this corpus to identify key representative and influential texts for social network analysis, generate visualisations of networks and their development, apply intersectional (gender, class, ethnicity) analysis to network components, correlate with location based metadata and engage in intensive critical analysis. The corpus will be made openly available via the Digital Repository of Ireland and UCD James Joyce Library.

This project will compare gender, genre and the nationality of the author (or setting) in shaping social networks in fiction. Do the social networks mapped out by cumulative interactions between characters in Irish and English fiction differ from one another? Do the social networks represented in fiction differ substantially on the basis of genre or gender? How does this change across the time period? The aim of the project is not to substitute a quantitative, computational approach for a critical and interpretative one, but to explore ways in which these two approaches can be combined. This combination of digital and critical methodologies offers a way of researching the development of the novel in this period which can realistically and judiciously deal with the radically extended canon of fiction, with its diversity of voices, genres and perspectives. The historical range offers the opportunity for a longitudinal, transhistorical analysis which can identify consistencies and changes. Does a map of social networks show distinctive patterns of aggregate character interaction characteristic of domestic and social realism? Are there specific characteristics of social networks as represented in gothic, ‘national tales’, modernist and popular genre? Is the gender of the author and/or the main protagonist significant?

Aims and objectives

1. Advance social network analysis of the novel and the application of new digital methodologies to key questions in literary history. Contribute significantly to the published literature in this field.
2. Establish a corpus of electronic texts which can be used by other researchers and students. Leverage the resources provided by the IRC-funded Electronic Guide to Irish Fiction (PI Professor Margaret Kelleher) for further research.
3. Combine cultural criticism, computer science and social network analysis to identify the ways in which Irish and English fiction represent social networks. Compare the shape of social relations presented in fiction on the basis of nationality, genre and gender. Undertake a longitudinal analysis of social networks in fiction.
4. Learn from the way in which community, nation and society have been imagined in the past about the processes of social integration and alienation, cultural change, conflict and cultural crisis.

Central Research Questions

1. Do Irish and English novels in the period 1800-1922 represent social networks differently? What does this tell us about the differences, similarities and relationships between them? What can social network analysis tells us about the relationship between nation, gender and genre in this period?
Central research questions
2. How can digital methodologies be integrated with more traditional literary scholarship while retaining the critical and interpretative function of the latter? Can this integration of methodologies enable new understandings of the relationship between nation, gender and genre in shaping the history of the Irish and English novel?