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 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.
Syllabuses for my Fall 2017 courses are now up on the teaching page. I am teaching a new graduate seminar, Twentieth-Century Genre: The Case of the Detective, with readings in detective fiction, genre theory, and the high-low cultural divide. I have also significantly revised my undergraduate course on Early Twentieth-Century Fiction, bidding farewell, for now, to some of my favorites (Barnes) and non-favorites (Hemingway) in order to allow for more attention to genre fiction and Indian writing in English. I’m always happy to hear from interested students, including those not currently enrolled.
On July 1, my job security improved. I am now part of the ludicrously small proportion of the academic workface with tenure: 21% in the U.S. in 2015, according to this AAUP chart based on IPEDS data, as against 57% part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty (the other 22% are grad students and junior faculty on the tenure track). I first applied for full-time academic jobs in the fall of 2008—that glorious season! Though private and public university management used the financial crisis to justify the austerity they imposed, austerity did not end with the official end of the Great Recession, at least when it comes to hiring faculty into good jobs. The MLA’s most recent report on its Job Information list begins by remarking that four years of decline in both English and foreign-language job ads brings numbers to “another new low,” having sunk beneath the level of the “troughs” of earlier decades. “How’s the market this year?” the senior academics ask Ph.D.-job-seekers, as though they were asking about the weather. But as with the weather, short-term fluctuations do not disguise the menacing trend.
In my line of work—and in my social-media universe—I seem to see a lot of ranking of categories: most frequent words in a text corpus, most frequent genres in a bibliographic listing, most frequent nationalities in a group of authors… I’ve often wondered how much uncertainty lies behind rankings but had no idea how to quantify this uncertainty. I caught a link (via @coulmont) to a short essay on the subject: Michael Höhle, “Rank Uncertainty: Why the ‘Most Popular’ Baby Names Might Not Be the Most Popular” (available in OA preprint), the basics of which I was able to follow, thanks to its clear exposition and accompanying R code. Höhle explains that even when one has a full census of the names of all the babies born in a year, there is still uncertainty associated with ranking the names: the true propensity in the population to give a particular name is not fully revealed by the actual total. Höhle suggests we can begin by modeling the uncertainty arising from the fact that (1) even if the birth rate is fixed, there are “chance” variations in the number of births and (2) even if the probabilities of names are fixed, each draw from the bag of names has some randomness (little Jacob might well have been William). The rank uncertainty can then be found by simulating a year’s worth of names many times and finding popularity ranks in each simulation.
Descriptions of my Fall 2017 courses are now up on the teaching page. I am teaching a new graduate course on detective fiction as a case study in twentieth-century genre, and a new version of my undergraduate early twentieth-century fiction course. The syllabuses are still in the works, but in the meantime I’m always glad to hear from interested students.