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Songs of Ourselves: The Circulations and Citations of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry on Twitter

Social media has reconditioned the reception, circulation, and uses of literary texts and their authors. Citing Simone Murray and Jessica Pressman, Aarthi Vadde succinctly summarizes that “The Internet has eclipsed television as the determining environment of mass-mediated life…(reshaping) the diffusion of literary practices into paraliterary spheres of textual activity” (456). How social media users engage literature publicly has attracted the attention of a growing group of scholars who also include Susanna Sacks, Tess McNulty, Melanie Walsh, Anna Preus, Edmund G.C. King, Matthew Kilbane, and others. Walsh particularly has been able to leverage quantitative data for critical essays on, for instance, the citations of James Baldwin in #BlackLivesMatter tweets (“Tweets of a Native Son: The Quotation and Circulation of James Baldwin from Black Power to #BlackLivesMatter”). To assist the recent platform turn in literary studies, we’ve assembled a quantitative dataset that charts the number of citations per day by which Twitter (now X) users may refer to nineteenth-century American poets. Using researcher access to Twitter’s full archive, our dataset reveals the frequencies with which strings of text referring to 115 nineteenth-century American poets have been published since Twitter’s launch in 2006. Because Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform has already resulted in significant data loss from user attrition as well as a foreclosure of researcher access to full-archive data, we view this dataset and others like it from the pre-X era as precious and the need for its preservation, urgent.