I am an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I study and teach twentieth-century literature in English. My research interests include genre fiction, the sociology of literature, modernism, South Asian literature in English, and the digital humanities. I am the author of Fictions of Autonomy: Modernism from Wilde to de Man (Oxford University Press, 2013).

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Here are some annotations to selected references in Agha Shahid Ali’s Call Me Ishmael Tonight, together with some information about the poet. These are for my students in Principles of Literary Study this semester, who are reading the book this week. But perhaps it will be of some use for other readers of this remarkable poet.

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I updated my teaching page with descriptions of my spring 2023 courses and the preliminary syllabuses. I’m teaching Principles of Literary Study and Introduction to Crime Fiction. I’m once again treating Principles as a grab-bag, splitting the semester into seven weeks on poetry and seven weeks on narrative. For the final project, students will rewrite one of the novels we read as an epic poem in hexameters, blank verse, or ślokas. Undergrad crime is a new course for me, though I have taught related material often. The final exam will consist of a single question: “Who did it?”

Note to students: that was a joke about the epic poem. I will also accept a supple free-verse rendition.

Second note to students: I think we all know who did it.

Update, 1/11/23: broken link to crime syllabus fixed. Sigh.


…Well, on YouTube: with my comrades on our union’s University Budget and Priorities Committee, I was on a panel about following the money at Rutgers, which you can see a recording of here. I talked a bit about the erosion of tenure and the rise of full-time non-tenure-track faculty positions. It’s a subject I have blogged on more than once before; those earlier posts give more detail about the data and analysis I used. Then I indulged in a little speculation and imagined—in the mode of Chris Newfield—two futures, one dismal and the other not, for the public university.

The whole program was pretty fun (despite a brief technological stumble near the end), with good questions from the audience too. Here’s a link to the slides I showed (slightly edited, with links to sources).

How the Rutgers Budget Shapes Our University
Thursday, October 13, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Michelle Gittelman (Management and Global Business, RBS-Newark)
on the central administration’s money vacuum

Andrew Goldstone (English, SAS-New Brunswick)
on new ways of undermining tenure

Juan González (Communcations, SCI-New Brunswick; co-host, Democracy Now!) on where the COVID relief money went

Mark Killingsworth (Economics, SAS-New Brunswick)
on athletics’ financial future or lack thereof

I watched some of my own performance, which probably wasn’t a good idea. Let’s just say I’m not about to be the next TikTok sensation.


I have two undergraduate courses this fall. I thought I’d post the syllabuses and also give away my hidden agenda.

English 358:358 Early Twentieth-Century Fiction

Syllabus (pdf)

What do James Joyce, Dashiell Hammett, Mulk Raj Anand, and Zora Neale Hurston have in common? All significant writers of English-language fiction, all active in the first half of the twentieth century, these writers lived through an epoch of global social upheaval—world wars, revolutions, mass migrations, the rise and decline of empire—and their work registers and responds to a world of crisis. Yet Joyce, the Irish experimentalist, writes nothing like Hammett, the pioneer of hard-boiled detective fiction; Anand, the committed Indian leftist, adopts very different perspectives from Hurston, the supreme Harlem Renaissance novelist. This course is a study in what is and is not shared in the fiction of these four writers and others of their era. Students will learn to analyze the forms and themes of exemplary fictions of the early twentieth century and to understand the variety of these fictions as a result of social contestation and collaboration. Readings include case studies in literary modernism (Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner), detective fiction (Dorothy Sayers, Hammett), Harlem Renaissance fiction (Jean Toomer, Hurston), and Indian writing in English (Rabindranath Tagore, Anand).

English 359:207 Data and Culture

Syllabus (pdf)
Syllabus bibliography (pdf)

The digitization of wide swaths of the print record has opened up new challenges and opportunities for researchers in the humanities. This course introduces students to some of the key techniques used by humanities scholars to organize, manipulate, and analyze digital sources—attending both to longstanding scholarly institutions and practices that shape our understanding of digital texts (critical editions, brick-and-mortar archives, and quantitative methods within social, political, and cultural history) and to new methods for studying texts, cultural geography, and relations between and among producers and consumers of culture.

Students who complete this course will develop facility in the use of digital tools for the representation, curation, and analysis of digital text. In each case, however, we will place these relatively new tools within a longer history of humanistic inquiry and will ask: what insights can these tools provide, and what questions (and texts) do they marginalize or occlude? Our aim throughout is to examine how digitization and data science have changed the questions that humanists can ask of their sources. What does it mean to think of culture as data? What new histories do these tools and methods help us uncover? In what ways has digitization helped and hindered the ability of humanities disciplines such as history, literary studies, and art history to provide an understanding of the past that can speak to urgent questions in the present moment?

Hidden agenda after the jump (as they used to say in the Elder Days of Blogging).

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The other day I was talking with an innocent bystander about some of my past work in the digital humanities. It occurred to me to wonder what a person who went looking for that work would find. The abyss also looks into you. Anyhoo, once upon a time I spent a lot of time working with data from JSTOR’s Data for Research service, a thing that no longer exists, and I produced two fairly elaborate programming projects related to topic models of text: my dfrtopics R package and my dfr-browser topic-model visualization. I am writing this post to announce that those things are still available and continue to shamble on, zombie-like, into the coming apocalypse. But I don’t plan to develop them further.

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