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Faculty Fellows 2018-19

Jennifer Boittin

  • Associate Professor of French, Francophone Studies, and History

The French colonial state’s vested interest in personhood and identity, i.e. in gender, race, nationality or class, served to control how bodies moved and people lived within French Indochina and French West Africa. In turn, aware that they were persons of interest and that their private lives were being investigated, French women pushed back against officials via letters in which they contested, rebutted or even roundly rejected data meant to force or restrict their mobility. This project looks at how women resisted the imperial regime of information, for example by setting up alternative communication flows and therefore redefining the boundaries of the data itself, reshaping points such as race and gender to wrest back from the administration control over information and therefore their own bodies.

Claire Bourne

  • Assistant Professor of English

Accidental Shakespeare asks what kind of information the early texts of Shakespeare’s plays preserve and transmit. The New Bibliographic orthodoxy of distinguishing “substantive” features of early editions (words) from “accidental” features (punctuation, spelling, and anything else affecting the “formal presentation” of the text) has long shaped the editing, teaching, and study of Shakespeare. By examining the fact and concept of textual “accident” in a variety of pre-modern and modern contexts, this project aims to show that notionsof “Shakespeare” have always been contingent on the unintentional and extra-lexical attributes of his plays in print.

Christopher Castiglia

  • Distinguished Professor of English

My project addresses nineteenth-century Spiritualism as an early information technology that combined belief, affect, psychology, and media in ways that made new forms of information acceptable to a mass audience.  My particular focus is on how Spiritualism retained the affective trace of interpersonal relations in the emergence of decorporealized information, ensuring that disembodied information remained experientially human.  At the same time, Spiritualism naturalized the relation of information and materiality, using conventional objects to deliver information while rendering them uncanny and therefore detaching affective attachment to the materiality of information. Spiritualism intensified the authority of information, reflecting emerging informational institutions like the US Census and the Federal Postal Service, while demonstrating how, once gathered, information from the beyond was open to organization and interpretation in new modes of speculative.

Rosa Eberly

  • Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and English

A CHI Fellowship will support my next monograph, Harry Shearer’s Character Machine, a study of actor, satirist, and transmedia artist Harry Shearer’s weekly one-hour radio program-cum-podcast, Le Show, now in its thirty-fifth year. A CHI fellowship will provide a collaborative setting for investigating the Le Show archive in the contexts of information, topic modeling, information architecture, and corpus studies as well as transcription theory and practice. The polyphony, longevity, and relative complexity of the Le Show archive make it of significant potential interest not only for scholars developing new methods of analyzing sound as information but also digital humanists working on tools for distant listening.

Hoda El Shakry

  • Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

Printed Matter(s): Critical Histories and Perspectives on Maghrebi Cultural Journals investigates the cultural history of Arabic, Francophone, as well as bilingual journals from the region of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia). The book aggregates and theorizes the periodicals that shaped the Maghreb’s cultural formations across the twentieth century. I theorize the cultural journal as a mode of knowledge production that centers on the serialized and shared dissemination of information. The book highlights not only the publications, but also the concepts, intellectuals, as well as networks of production, circulation, distribution, and readership that operated both intra- and inter-regionally. Methodologically, the interdisciplinary project weaves together media studies, cultural history, and periodical studies.

Ran Zwigenberg

  • Assistant Professor of Asian Studies, History and Jewish Studies

This project examines the way mental health professionals in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, as well as those who studied hibakusha in the West tackled the long term psychological consequences of the bomb. It places the various responses and clinical approaches taken in the stricken cities within the context of the larger history of trauma in Japan and elsewhere as well as the bigger historical responses of medicine to the threat and reality of nuclear weapons, tests and accidents. The project is focused on Japan but examine it within the larger context of Cold War psychiatry and research on the medical aspects of the bomb.

Predoctoral Fellows 2018-19

Patrick Allen

  • Graduate Assistant in English

How does reading printed texts by and about Black doctors transform our understanding of American medical history, scientific racism, and the push for professionalization? So asks my dissertation, A Practice of Print: Race, Doctoring, and Medicine in Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem Black Print Culture. Black medical professionalism was never merely about physical treatment but was instead always entangled in projects of racial uplift and the critique and reform of (extra-) medical structures. Performing what I call a Black critical medical humanism, the doctors I write about—both real and fictional—challenged prevailing discourses of African American inhumanity and ungrievability in order to promote a new kind of medicine—one that might indeed do no harm.

Bethany Doane

  • English Graduate Assistant

My dissertation project draws on critical theory, feminist studies, and genre literature in order to posit the aesthetic and conceptual significance of “weird fiction,” and its legacies in the horror genre. This interstitial and speculative mode attempts to think toward the unthinkable by imagining what lies beyond human perceptual, epistemic, and phenomenological limits. It therefore engages directly with the conceptual framework of the contemporary nonhuman turn. Following the weird’s fascination with the “outside” as one of interpretive ambivalence, the project also maps the political contexts of how various media, from pulp magazines to blogs, has enabled certain gendered and racially configured reading communities and practices.

Maxwell Larson

  • Graduate Assistant in English

My dissertation is about two distinct methods of textual analysis: critical and computational. Although current debates surrounding Digital Humanities and “distant reading” might lead literary scholars to believe that any relationship between computational methods and critical methods is relatively new, I trace their interpenetration back to the origins of electronic computing in the 1940s. By pairing four early computational methods of textual analysis—generative grammar, stylostatistics, content analysis, and cliometrics—with four literary intellectuals who engaged with them—Christine Brooke-Rose, J.M. Coetzee, Clarence Major, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—my dissertation attempts not to combine computation with critique, but to understand why we imagine them as divided in the first place.

Johann Le Guelte

  • Graduate Assistant in French

My research examines the visual politics of interwar French colonial propaganda, and the ways authorities used photography as a central tool for the attempted formation of a visual empire. I focus on the production and reception of colonial photographic propaganda to determine how state-sponsored photographs became official colonial information in the minds of many French citizens and irrefutable evidence of the civilizing mission. In my dissertation, I also examine transnational instances of photographic resistance to the French Empire in both Senegal and metropolitan France; where various photographic realities of empire coexisted.

John Rountree

  • Graduate Assistant in Communication Arts and Sciences

My dissertation project, currently titled "Congressional Town Hall Meetings: Rhetoric, Citizenship, and Participatory Democracy," examines the history and rhetorical functions of town hall meetings with congressional representatives. Using rhetorical fieldwork, I analyze town meeting practices in four different districts—OH-3, (former) PA-5, NY-19, and NH-1. Through textual analysis and interviews, I show that town meetings are a nexus point within a political community. They enable participants to contest the boundaries of that community, to reconstitute who is a legitimate part of that district, who deserves to speak, and whose stories demand recognition in larger policy narratives.

Anna Torres Cacoullos

  • Graduate Assistant in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

My dissertation, “Writing with Cinema: Facing the Screen and Page in Modernist Spain,” interrogates how early film technology, before the advent of sound in 1927, called into question the age-old dialogue between image and text. Specifically, my project explores how the cinematic medium altered the written word in the prose fiction of modernist and avant-garde writers in Spain, inspiring a reconsideration of the form, method, and function of the literary. Cinema and the paraphernalia it generated—posters, film reviews, pamphlets, periodicals, and magazines—problematized the status of the written text and its mode of conveying meaning. I read this paraphernalia as “texts,” or rather, paratexts, to understand how the “moving picture” was mediated by a synthesis of word and image.

Miaosi Zhang

  • Graduate Assistant in History

My dissertation, currently titled “Materiality of the Myriad Things (wanwu): Commerce, Natural history, and Diplomacy in Britain and China in the eighteenth century,” focuses on the cultural and intellectual encounters through natural history, commerce and diplomacy between Britain and China in the eighteenth century. My project examines the transmission of medicinal plants, spices, and tea from China to England in the late eighteenth- to early nineteenth century, along with the cultural influence of these natural products in English society. I intend to situate the Sino-Anglo cultural and commercial exchange in a global network of knowledge circulation during this period.

Visiting Fellows 2018-19

Jeffrey Binder

Jeffrey M. Binder specializes in humanistic perspectives on computation, especially in relation to issues of language. He has written on topics ranging from the history of the back-of-the-book index to the use of technical terms in Walt Whitman’s poetry; he has also developed numerous software experiments in computational text analysis and artistic uses of artificial intelligence. His work has been published in such journals as ELH, American Literature, and Media Culture and Society; his most recent article, “Romantic Disciplinarity and the Rise of the Algorithm,” appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Critical Inquiry. He is currently working on a book about the history of algorithmic thinking from the sixteenth century to the present.

Jocelyn Rodal

I received my PhD in English from U.C. Berkeley in 2016, and I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis before coming to Penn State in 2017. I’m currently at work on a book manuscript titled Modernism’s Mathematics: From Form to FormalismThat project reads literary modernism alongside a contemporaneous modernist movement in mathematics. Looking at authors such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Virginia Woolf, I argue that modernists were using mathematics to create and elucidate form—form that, in turn, engendered formalism in literary studies. Modernism’s Mathematics uses mathematical theories of syntax and semantics to understand form, arguing that formalism, as a reading practice, has structural and historical roots in mathematics.

Josh Shepperd

Josh Shepperd is an Assistant Professor at Catholic University and the Sound Fellow of the Library of Congress NRPB. He works on the history of emergent media industries, public humanities, sound studies, and the political economy of data and information. Josh is Director of the Library of Congress's Radio Preservation Task Force, a digital humanities consortium of 225 professors and 40 federal and public sector partnerships. His book Shadow of the New Deal: The Victory of Public Broadcasting is under contract in the University of Illinois Press History of Communication Series. It examines the institutional origins of public broadcasting and communications research in advocacy work conducted by the media reform movement. Josh is additionally under contract to co-author the official History of Public Broadcasting for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Current. His research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, Rockefeller Archive, LBJ Presidential Library, Library of Congress, CLIR, NRPF, and NEH.

Grant Wythoff

Gadgetry: A History of Techniques explores how complex information technologies like the smartphone become legible to us through everyday practice, habit, and belief. I draw on my background in literary studies to trace the many ways that small decisions by individual users add up to critical transitions between paradigms in media history, describing these moments of indeterminacy and possibility as "fictions." Digital media technologies are not a force that comes down from on high to alter patterns in human relations, they are the product of what we imagine to be possible with our tools, from the micro-level of pragmatic functionality to the macro-level of cultural imaginaries and consensus visions of the future in science fiction.