About Me

Picture of me

I am a PhD candidate in English at CUNY specializing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, intellectual history, and digital humanities. Much of my work involves putting new digital technologies into dialogue with the past.

I have an A.B. in English literature with a minor in mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis, and an M.A. in English from NYU. Before starting at CUNY, I worked for five years in database programming and data visualization, first at Nature Publishing Group and then at NYU School of Medicine.

The Distance Machine shows how the words in a passage from Moby-Dick went in and out of common use over a period of two centuries.

If you want to get a sense of what my digital work is like, a good place to start is the Distance Machine. The Distance Machine is a web-based program (which you can try in your browser right now) that identifies words in historical texts that were uncommon at particular points in time. I published an article about the project in American Literature; the source code is on GitHub.

I’ve also made some fun things like a poetry generator that can create rhymed verse and a depoeticizer.

There is a longer list of my digital projects here; you can also view a list of my major publications or my full CV.

I recently defended my dissertation, titled “Symbols Purely Mechanical: Language, Modernity, and the Rise of the Algorithm, 1605-1862.” This project provides a historical perspective on anxieties that have arisen in Digital Humanities and Media Studies about the difficulty of reconciling interpretive and computational methods. Through readings of texts from the histories of semiotics (Condillac, Humboldt), poetics (Wordsworth, Poe), and mathematics (Leibniz, Boole), I show that this disconnect results from a cluster of assumptions about cultural change that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Since around 1800, I argue, the spheres of culture and computation have been founded on conflicting views of history: culture is seen as arising from collective practices that lie beyond the control of any individual, whereas algorithms are treated as changeable at will. It is because of this compartmentalization, I maintain, that the idea of progress plays such a persistent role in discussions of digital technologies; similarly to the Modernist avant garde, computing machines have license to break with established semantic conventions and thus to lead culture in new directions. As an alternative to this technocratic arrangement, I call for a poetic approach to computation that embraces misalignments between algorithm and meaning.