Historical and Fictional Nation: A Methodology for a Distant Reading Survey of the Episodios Nacionales by Benito Pérez Galdós.


Cecilio Alonso, in his latest work on the 19th-century Spanish literature, discusses how the historicist realism of Galdós’ National Episodes is “not only a symbiosis of historical and fictional events, but an effort to show the most useful image for the «national» reader of 1875” (496). Also, already in 1877, Mesonero Romanos said that Galdós’ works offered “more life lessons than many books of history” (499). In this manner, both critics point to these 46 novels —written between 1872 and 1912 and covering most of 19th-century Spain (1808-1880)— as a communicative model with a clear didactic purpose, that the reader learns about the history in terms of an appropriate national model.

However, Alonso himself places “national” between inverted commas, probably with the intention to note that this is a very abstract term and an active zone of contention during 19th-century cultural and political discussions. In this sense it would be very helpful to study Galdos’ oeuvre to shed light on such a controversial notion. However, given its extension —and, in particular the number of novels in the Episodios Nacionales— it seems suitable to apply a distant reading survey to determine what data can be extracted by using digital tools, framing the study in the Digital Humanities. Thus, I develop a methodology to study the evolution of the term “nation” as an example to, ultimately, show the possibilities DH offer for the study of works in Spanish, taking into consideration the method can be repurposed for future research on other terms.