About Me

I am a literary and cultural critic who specializes in intellectual history and U.S. autobiographical writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I use formalist, theoretical, and computational (sometimes called "digital humanities") approaches to answer persistent intellectual problems. My broader intellectual interests include phenomenological accounts of lived experience and how early psychology, sociology, and historiography contributed to and were influenced by literary accounts of the self.

My most recent book, Critical Digital Humanities: The Search for a Methodology (University of Illinois Press, 2019), establishes a new theoretical paradigm for the digital humanities through a reading of new computer-aided techniques that are increasingly used in the humanities, including machine learning and text mining, in relation to literary hermeneutics and critical theory.

“Critical Digital Humanities brings hermeneutic philosophy, literary theory (high and low, surface and deep) to bear on research in the field of digital humanities, from machine learning to sentiment analysis. This book goes beyond mere critique, effectively and thoroughly interrogating the extent to which algorithmic tools extend humanists' interpretive goals. It should be required reading not only for those interested in limits of computational methodologies but also for digital humanities scholars and students who are analyzing digital texts and building digital tools for future research.”
―Laura Mandell, author of Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age

“In this artfully crafted, elegantly written monograph, Dobson deploys his acumen as a literary theorist to show how everything touching computational methods from computational logic to algorithmically derived tools is subject in one way or another to the modes of humanistic critique that computational scientists claim to have rendered obsolete. Whereas computational digital humanities claims to be a mode inquiry that would utterly displace humanistic disciplines, the critical digital humanities Dobson explains and practices shows how humanistic critical theory and computational science might be considered complementary rather than antagonistic modes of inquiry.”
―Donald E. Pease, author of The New American Exceptionalism

My first book, Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America: Literary Representations of Communication and Transportation Technologies (Palgrave, 2017), concerns the relation between autobiographical writing, modernity, and technology in the work of Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, and Henry Adams. Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Cenury America examines temporal and formal disruptions found in American autobiographical narratives produced during the end of the nineteenth century. It argues that disruptions were primarily the result of encounters with new communication and transportation technologies.

“This book is a brilliant treatment of the impact of disruptive technologies on the very way in which great writers such as Mark Twain and Henry Adams conceive and compose autobiographical texts. The analyses are rich, subtle and original. Dobson's own writing is powerful and poignant. In short, this work is pioneering in a courageous way!”
—Cornel R. West, Professor, Harvard Divinity School, Massachusetts, USA

“This is a beautifully written study that accomplishes its purpose with adroit and nuanced criticism…The great original contribution of the study is to argue for regionalism as constitutively bound up with modern experience...”
—Stephen Shapiro, Professor, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

At present, I am working on two book projects: one addressing the history of computer vision and its major algorithms and another titled "The Awkward Age of Autobiography" that examines the partial, repetitive, and nonlinear forms taken by American fin-de-siècle autobiography and the relationship between these formal shifts to questions of historiography within the period. In past years I have taught courses on the digital humanities, autobiography and selfie culture, the historical representation of interiority and theories of mind, the history and culture of the university, (A) Game of Thrones, nineteenth-century American literature, modern American drama, and several courses on Dartmouth literary history, including one titled "Dartmouth Fictions."

© Copyright by James E. Dobson