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.
I was invited by the new journal Cultural Analytics to respond to an essay by Sarah Allison, “Other People’s Data: Humanities Edition.” Sarah’s essay makes an important argument for what she calls “data recycling,” and she touches on my collaboration with Ted Underwood on the way. My comment expands on the conditions for effective data reuse. I will be happy if the conversation does not get bogged down in the technicalities of “reproducibility,” and we instead insist on asking how we carry on cumulative research programs. My short essay is open access: From Reproducible to Productive.
Two years ago, I designed and taught a graduate seminar on approaches to Literary Data. I was invited to contribute an essay on the course to Debates in the Digital Humanities. The essay was some time in the writing, and it will be some time longer in the publishing: the next DDH volume is now due to appear at the start of 2018. But by kind permission of the editors, I am able to share a preprint of my essay: Teaching Quantitative Methods: What Makes It Hard (in Literary Studies). If you quote it, please cite its forthcoming publication.
The essay explains the rationale of the course, which combined a practicum in computing with literary data using the R language with theories of literary data from structuralism to the present. My own evaluation of the course is quite mixed, and I offer my materials and my experience not as a model but as evidence for an argument about the conditions of possibility for a successful quantitative methods pedagogy in literary studies. Pedagogy, in this case, also raises serious questions for research; and I also hint at what I take to be the conditions for fruitful quantitative methodology tout court.
I couldn’t have wished for better students—that condition of possibility is indeed already realized. The major lessons I draw are (this is from the essay):
Cultivating technical facility with computer tools—including programming languages—should receive less attention than methodologies for analyzing quantitative or aggregative evidence. Despite the widespread DH interest in the former, it has little scholarly use without the latter.
Studying method requires pedagogically suitable material for study, but good teaching datasets do not exist. It will require communal effort to create them on the basis of existing research.
Following the “theory” model, DH has typically been inserted into curricula as a single-semester course. Yet as a training in method, the analysis of aggregate data will undoubtedly require more time, and a different rationale, than that offered by what Gerald Graff calls “the field-coverage principle” in the curriculum.
Some more remarks on the essay and the course follow after the jump.
Descriptions of my Spring 2017 courses are now up on the teaching page. I am offering a new course geared to non-majors, Introduction to Twentieth-Century Literature, which will hone in on a few chosen works of fiction, poetry, and drama from across the century and across the English-speaking world. I am also teaching Principles of Literary Study: Fiction, as I have in past years; for the first time I am teaching an Honors section. When I was a first-year in college I took a Shakespeare course which had honors sections for English majors; as a non-major I could only look on in envy at all the cool extra stuff they got to do. Well, my 359:202:H1 is open to majors and non-majors, and I will be aiming to provide cool extra stuff for all. I will add links to reading lists and syllabuses as soon as they are ready. I’m always happy to hear from students who are interested in either course.
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.