Ted Underwood is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature. He is the author of The Work of the Sun: Literature, Science and Political Economy
(Palgrave, 2005), and of Why Literary Periods Mattered
(under contract at Stanford University Press). He is currently working on a book about the value of quantitative methods in literary history.
Of all our literary-historical narratives it is the history of criticism itself that seems most wedded to a stodgy history-of-ideas approach — narrating change through a succession of stars or contending schools.
Literary criticism used to be, in great part, an attempt to define the distinctive character of “literary language.” The project preoccupied Russian Formalists and American New Critics, and dates back to the nineteenth century.