Skip to main content

Social Distancing

About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Nika Mavrody, Nichole Nomura, J.D. Porter, Matt Warner;

Collaborators: Yibing Du;

Start date: Apr 1, 2020

End date: Jun 15, 2021

Last updated: Jan 1, 2023

Presentation from the social distancing project
Nov 18, 2020

Presentation on the new Epidemics project
May 6, 2020

This project takes the constraints the Covid-19 virus has placed on our own sociality as a through line, collecting scenes of isolation in novels, essays, and short stories from the eighteenth century through the present day.

Our examples range from scenes of solitary confinement on deserted islands and spaceships, in nunneries and prison cells, to literary celebrations of private space. How does reading “A Room of One’s Own” alongside Robinson Crusoe inform our current experience? Where do we get by describing Snow White and the seven dwarfs as social distancing with roommates? Our project aims to identify a common language of isolation across literary genres and historical periods, while simultaneously drawing attention to a number of key differences across the corpus. For instance, are socially distanced women portrayed differently than their male counterparts? Are they more likely to be confined against their will? Does voluntary isolation look substantively different than involuntary? Does solitary confinement share a lexicon with the practice of social distancing as a family?

In particular, our project combines quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate social distancing and the novel of isolation. Does the way that we describe isolation in literary contexts change according to the gender of the characters, whether it is voluntary or not, or whether the distancing happens alone or in groups? How has it varied over the course of literary history, or across genres? By exploring the ways in which novels have confronted the experience of social distancing, we seek to gain a better understanding of our own moment.