Image Source: Cap and Gown (Chicago, 1895)

Book Project

Article Abstracts

Research Agenda

My broader scholarship connects American cultural studies, intellectual history, and literary studies to explore the ways in which American literature registered and was a full participant in a crisis of historiography brought on by modernization. In dialectically reading little known, previously discounted, or otherwise "minor" autobiographers against canonical "major" authors of the period, my work aims to defamiliarize our received understanding of this important transitional moment. Using the wide array of methodologies available at present including a historically informed formalism, cultural studies, phenomenology, text mining and other digital humanities approaches, my scholarship seeks to continually complicate our understanding of literary history. In bringing literature back into the transatlantic and indeed global conversation of understanding our technological modernity, I make a strong argument for the importance of the humanities during this moment of disciplinary and institutiona reconfiguration. For more on my research, please see my website for the "Lab for Cultural Criticism."

Book Project

The Awkward Age of Autobiography: Modernization, Temporality, and American Self-Representation 1865-1915

In the late nineteenth century the literary genre of autobiography went through a dramatic transformation. Autobiographers increasingly wrote truncated accounts of their past, published multiple autobiographical works, used third-person narration, and dropped linear narration in favor of circuitous, repetitive, or thematic ordering. Many of these writers resisted the progress narrative that once provided authors like Benjamin Franklin with a model for representing the life narrative. My project links these formal shifts with the transatlantic critique of modern progress with reference to some of the era's most ambivalent observers of a rapidly shifting social terrain: Lucy Larcom, Henry Adams, Henry James, Ambrose Bierce, and William Dean Howells. I argue that the formal experimentation with temporality in autobiography during this period results from ambivalence to modernization experienced during an historically earlier time. Many of these autobiographers rejected the idea of planned obsolescence and the language of superannuation and in so doing they formally registered the historiographical complexities raised by questioning modern conceptions of time. While remembering these past moments, the authors I discuss resisted the closed world invited by nostalgic reactions. At the same time, their backward gaze was complicated by the contemporary modern mood to leave the past behind as well as a lingering concern over the unfinished work of the past. Yet these authors did not disavow history and subjectivity; rather, they critiqued what they viewed as the degradation of these forms. Armed with a host of self-consciously awkward affects these authors persisted in creating literary representations of lived experience.

Recent Article Abstract: "Can an Algorithm be Disturbed?: Machine Learning, Intrinsic Criticism, and the Digital Humanities," College Literature 42, no. 4 (2015): 543 - 564.
Abstract: This essay positions the use of machine learning within the digital humanities as part of a wider movement that nostalgically seeks to return literary criticism to the structuralist era, to a moment characterized by belief in systems, structure, and the transparency of language. It argues that the scientific criticism of the present attempts to separate methodology from interpretation and in the process it has deemphasized the degree to which methodology also participates in interpretation. This essay returns to the deconstructive critique of structuralism in order to highlight the ways in which numerous interpretive decisions are suppressed in the pre-processing of text and in the use of machine learning algorithms.
Keywords: digital humanities, machine learning, literary criticism
Recent Article Abstract: "Bits of Autobiography: Radical Deindividualization and Everydayness," Arizona Quarterly 71, no. 1 (2015): 83-99.
Abstract: This essay focuses on the autobiographical strategies deployed by Ambrose Bierce in response to shifting conceptions of the literary representation of everyday life. I place Bierce at the transition point between nineteenth and twentieth-century realism, between an understanding of typical experience as comfortably generic and a growing sense that the common story has produced a horrify anonymity. "Bits of Autobiography" are fragmentary and hypersubjective narratives that Bierce uses in his attempt to re-individuate by breaking with the repetitiveness that he associates with this latter understanding.
Keywords: autobiography, realism, subjectivity, daily life / the everyday

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