j.ensor@westernsydney.edu.au

PhD

Awarded in 2011, my PhD traced the history of the book in Australia, particularly the production and business context that mediated Australia’s literary and cultural ties to Britain for much of the twentieth century. In its case study, my dissertation focused on the London operations of one of Australia’s premier book publishers and retailers in the twentieth century, Angus & Robertson. It examined the ways in which Angus & Robertson attempted to get inside the United Kingdom market, both as a means of acquiring British titles as well as selling Australian books overseas. This represented a distinctive chapter in the history of Australian book publishing, animated by a tension between an aspirational literary nationalism and the more mundane requirements of turning a profit. My PhD argued that, despite the obvious limitations of a British-dominated world market, Australian publishers nonetheless had room for manoeuvre.

For its subject of inquiry, my PhD also explored in ways quite new in Australia the application of computing to Australian publishing history. Specifically, I used a mixed-methods approach that combined an interpretative history of primary resource materials with the analysis of bibliographic data. Although my case study required traditional archival-based research in the restricted Angus & Robertson collection at the State Library of New South Wales, the volume of materials discovered was too great for administrating in the conventional manner of a filing cabinet. Instead, with permission from the relevant rights-holders, I digitized over 18,000 documents (memos, author and publisher correspondence, contracts and financial statements) for research. These documents were then imported into a self-developed research management system and each digital item was tagged with archival source identifiers, descriptive information, date data and thematic terms associated with the research topic. While collecting and tagging these materials was laborious, this approach proved extremely effective in adding layers of discoverability (the collection could be searched according to subject, authors and recipients of documents, organisations, archival volume and by date) and in organising thousands of documents during the writing phase.

For the second half of my PhD, I used data mining and analysis and digital visualization to aid the discovery of new knowledge. This approach was made possible by recent advances in online bibliographic databases, particularly ‘AustLit: The Australian Literary Resource’. Bringing geographical modes of thinking and analysis to bear on AustLit’s records, I analysed a dataset of 18,954 reprints and 21,247 first editions with respect to 2,278 publishers of Australian fiction in book form. This was supplemented with a parallel analysis of Angus & Robertson’s complete publication record, visualizing information in the Australian National Bibliographic Database (13,447 records) and the British Library Catalogue (23,407 records) to build an international picture of the publication of Australian novels during the twentieth century between Sydney and London. My PhD was arguably the first higher-degree study to use large-scale datasets and computational methods to construct a history of Australian publishing. In this way, through having technical and research dimensions to its inquiry, my PhD’s mode of analysis can be firmly identified with the methods and field of digital humanities.