Who are the most influential authors of the past couple of hundred years? A new study by Matthew Jockers has used software styled after Google’s Page Rank algorithm to analyse thousands of 19th century texts, eventually coming up with two key names: Jane Austen and Walter Scott.
Jockers’ work involved various techniques including stylometry, linguistics and network analysis. He analysed thematic data and then constructed ranked lists that enabled him to run various tests. In the resultant paper Computing and Visualizing the 19th Century Literary Genome, Jockers determined that Austen and Scott were the two key influencers of the period.
Acknowledging that there’s much more work to be done, particularly in terms of broadening the horizons of the study, Jockers raises the possibility of tracing trends back to distant literary sources. His findings support the widely-acknowledged idea that modern literature is profoundly influenced by the work of those who have gone before, to the extent arguably that literature develops from one generation to the next.