Computers may or may not be changing the nature of art; I leave this question to the eminent Blowhards. But at the very least they could be the handmaidens of literary scholarship. Shouldn’t the Internet be full of concordances by now?

You remember concordances. Those thick books your English professors had on their shelves, where you could look up how many times Milton uses the word “swain,” or Dryden “wit,” or Dickinson “nature”? Now difficult as this may be for some of you juvenile readers to grasp, in antediluvian times scholars compiled these by hand. They are indispensable for serious literary scholarship, and excellent for settling arguments and jogging memories.

There are a few online concordances for the obvious choices, like Shakespeare and the Bible. There’s even pretty cheap software that will do it for you automatically, which these folks have used to make a desultory stab at a few of the British romantic poets. The University of Georgia English Department has managed to post a complete one for William Blake. It is defective (a search for “rose” yields hits for “prose” and “arose” with no way to ask for the whole word only, or to distinguish the noun from the verb) but far better than nothing. Bartleby offers search on its texts, but they are nearly always single works or selections. No remotely complete online concordance exists for, moving in reverse chronological order and considering only a few poets who interest me, Stevens, Robinson, Hardy, Hopkins, Dickinson, Pope, Dryden, Milton, Jonson, Donne, Greville, Ralegh, Gascoigne, Skelton, and Chaucer. Print concordances exist for every one of these authors.

Clearly there’s a shortage people with the necessary technical skills and literary interests to do the job. A sufficiently interested and modestly competent database programmer could rig this up in a jiffy. Do I know anyone like that? Oh. Right. Never mind then.

Aaron Haspel | Posted October 26, 2003 @ 6:08 PM | Code,Literature

5 Responses to “Dude, Where’s My Concordance?”

  1. 1 1. Ken Goldstein

    I own a previously useful Joseph Conrad concordance and occasionally calculate partial concordances for National Enquirer articles. Does that help?


  2. 2 2. Aaron Haspel

    No.


  3. 3 3. Rick Coencas

    Have you taken a look at the new Amazon Search Inside the Book feature? Not exactly what you are looking for, but an interesting resource.


  4. 4 4. Howard Owens

    Well, it’s not online, and you didn’t mention him, but I do own a concordance of Hart Crane.

    Just thought I’d mention it.


  5. 5 5. evariste

    To search for "rose" alone, you need to do 2 different searches:
    " rose" (rose with a space in front of it). This gets all instances of "rose" alone except for those where rose appears at the beginning of a paragraph.
    "Rose" (this search is case-sensitive).


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