I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I study and teach twentieth-century literature in English. My research interests include modernism, the sociology of literature, genre fiction, South Asian literature in English, and the digital humanities. My book, Fictions of Autonomy: Modernism from Wilde to de Man (2013), is published by Oxford University Press.
My department asked me to meet with our first-year Ph.D. students to talk about “Using Digital Media” in their scholarly lives. It was interesting to try to sketch an outline of what I thought a starting English Ph.D. student should hear on the topic, and I thought I’d post a copy of that outline here. There’s also a pdf version. I also thought there are one or two people who might be amused by my sketch of research in digital humanities.
I recently picked up the first of Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels, Faceless Killers. I loved the Kenneth Branagh TV adaptations of these mysteries but had been saving up the pleasure of the novels themselves. I have the special talent of forgetting the resolution of pretty much any mystery I read, so I have no trouble enjoying the suspense a second time around. What I do not enjoy, however, is reading an excellent novel in a poor text.
I’m attending the Society for Novel Studies conference in Pittsburgh this week. I’m on a panel organized by my colleague Rebecca Walkowitz on “Genre Fiction and World Literature,” with papers by Sarah Chihaya (Princeton), Jessica FitzPatrick (Pitt), and Philip Joseph (University of Colorado–Denver). The panel is in the D session, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Carnegie Room I-II.
My paper is called “Cosmopolitanism before and after the Omnivore,” and I’m going to argue that the rise of omnivorousness as a high-status disposition enables one kind of cosmopolitan science fiction—exemplified by Ghosh’s Calcutta Chromosome—while inviting us to forget the worldliness of lowlier forms dating back to the earliest pulps. Visualization:
Every year, I teach Early Twentieth-Century Fiction. In the first lecture, I tell my students that the baseline fact about fiction in this period is expansion: more books, more readers, more writers. It is this expansion which makes possible the diversification and hierarchization that characterize the literary field in the twentieth century. And every year, I want to illustrate these claims quantitatively. It seems straightforward enough: surely, somewhere in my small pile of book-history books, there would be a table of figures of fiction production over time that will let me substantiate this straightforward point. But the best I have managed so far has been disappointingly vague and broad-brush, cobbled together from a table here and an offhand summary there in work by book historians.
For my research on popular fiction genres, I have been working through Publishers’ Weekly in the decades on either side of 1900. It has the additional convenience of being digitally available, since scans of the yearly volumes are in HathiTrust (and, mirabile dictu, actually organized under a single catalogue entry). PW is one of the sources for the figures I have seen, since it kept a running bibliography of new books, and every January printed an annual summary of the past year’s production. Since I was reading those annual summaries anyway, I decided to transcribe PW’s tallies of yearly fiction production. Perhaps it would be possible to automate the transcription, but trying to get, say, Tabula going here was more work than just writing down the numbers in a CSV file myself.
It occurred to me that this transcription might be useful to others, and that it wouldn’t hurt to make it possible to build on it. So I have put it on github. I didn’t have the time to transcribe the full tables, so there’s work to be done to get PW’s other categories transcribed. And other fundamental time series for the literary field would be equally useful: statistics from other countries, of course (I am also going through the Publishers’ Circular myself); but also anything about readership or the book market.
Descriptions of the courses I’m teaching next semester are now up on the teaching page. I am offering Early Twentieth-Century Fiction, as I have in past years, as well as a new course, a seminar on “Science Fiction in Print from Pulp to the Present.” I’m very excited about both courses. I’m still working on the syllabuses, which will be linked from those pages as soon as they’re ready. In the meanwhile, my Early 20th-Century Fiction syllabus from 2014 is online; this year’s course will not be identical, but it will be broadly similar. I taught science fiction as a 300-level course in 2013; the 400-level seminar will have different readings and requirements but quite a bit of overlap in terms of themes. I’m always happy to hear from students who are interested in either course.