Is it the Joyce Industry or the Shakespeare Industry?

At the recent Digital Humanities Conference in Maryland, Matthew Wilkins and I got into a discussion about famous authors and the “industries” of scholarship that their works have inspired (see Matt’s blog post about our discussion and his survey analysis of the MLA bibliography).

The first time I ever heard the term “industry” used in this context was in reference to the scholarship generated by Joyce’s novel Ulysses. As Joyce himself predicted (bragged) the book would keep scholars busy for centuries to come, and, of course, Joyce was right–well maybe not centuries, but you get the idea. But can we really compare the Shakespeare “industry” to the Joyce “industry” given that the Bard had such a significant head start in terms of establishing his scholarly “fan base”?

Using the MLA bibliography, Matthew W. took a stab at this and compiled some rough figures of recent scholarship on the two masters. By Matt’s count, since 1923, Joyce has inspired just 9315 citations to Shakespeare’s massive 35,489.

But there is an obvious problem here: the figures begin in 1923 and Ulysses, the book that really puts Joyce on the map, was only published in 1922. So Joyce is getting into the industry-building business a bit late. Clearly we must do some norming here to account for the Bard’s head start.

Now, since I am pretty sure that I owe Matt a beer if the Bard has a bigger industry, I think some well thought out math is warranted here:-) . . .

Shakespeare dies in 1616 and Joyce dies in 1941. Subtracting each death date from the last year of Matt’s analysis (2008) means that Shakespeare had 392 years to develop his industry and Joyce only 67 years. If we divide the total number of citations Matt found in the MLA bibliography by the total number of industry-building years, then the figures tell a very different story. Joyce averages 139 citations per year whereas Shakespeare manages only a paltry 90.5

But wait, there’s more. . . Querying the MLA bibliography using the search terms “shakespeare and hamlet” results in 4079 citations. A similar query for “joyce and ulysses” returns 3269. Normed for years of industry-building time these figures tell a sad, sad tale for the man from Stratford. Ulysses inspires 48.8 citations per year and Hamlet a meager 10.4.

In this sense, the Bard can be thought of as the steady industrial giant. His stock increases little by little, and he is a generally good investment. For the sake of convenience, let’s call him “GM.”

Joyce, on the other hand is a relative new comer to the marketplace. He is more like a Silicon Valley startup and his stock starts off slow and then sky-rockets. For the sake of convenience, we’ll call him “Google.”

Now, getting back to the central question, who’s bigger. . . You’ll find the answer here.