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Visiting Fellows 2018-19

Jeffrey Binder

I am currently working on a book about the intellectual history of algorithms from the mid-1500s to around 1900. By examing the differing ways in which people have conceptualized algorithm-like processes over the centuries, my book shows that computation as we know it depends on social categories that emerged in the nineteenth century. During the Enlightenment, algorithms were a politically loaded topic; radicals sought to replace the “errors” of the past with mathematical rationality, while conservatives viewed such methods as tyrannical impositions of arbitrary rules on human thought. The Romantic turn around 1800, I argue, provided a new definition of culture in which these two conflicting positions could get along: the technical aspects of mathematical systems could be scientifically designed, whereas the “cultural factors” involved in making them meaningful to people could be enabled to develop organically. This nineteenth-century compromise, I argue, set the terms on which algorithms continue to relate to meaning in the present day.

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.