James F. English
John Welsh Centennial Professor of English
James English is founding faculty director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities. From 2011 to 2018 he directed the Penn Humanities Forum and oversaw its relaunch as the Wolf Humanities Center. He is a former Chair of the Department of English and has served as interim Director of Cinema Studies and Moderator of the University Council.
English received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from Stanford, specializing in modern and contemporary British fiction. His first book, Comic Transactions: Literature, Humor, and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain, explored the political dimensions of joke-work in the British novel from Conrad and Woolf to Lessing and Rushdie. Since then his work has focused on the sociology of literature and especially on its institutional and transnational dimensions. The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value was named Best Academic Book of 2005 by New York Magazine. He is also the author of the Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, a collection of essays about the scene and system of literary production in the U.K., and The Global Future of English Studies, published in the Blackwell Manifesto series It rethinks the prevailing narratives of contraction and decline that dominate histories of the discipline, stressing instead the discipline’s expansion within a rapidly massivying global academic apparatus, and the new challenges and opportunities such sudden and dispersive growth presents.
He is currently completing Beauty By the Numbers, a brief history of attempts to quantify aesthetic value. An ongoing digital project seeks to express the field of contemporary Anglophone fiction by means of “small data” and quantitative relationships. Initial results of this research appeared in a special fall 2016 issue of MLQ on “Scale and Value: New and Digital Approaches to Literary History” which English co-edited with Ted Underwood. Another digital project, Mining Goodreads: Literary Reception Studies at Scale, involves larger datasets gathered from the social reading site Goodreads. Other projects have included a special issue of NLH on the “New Sociologies of Literature,” co-edited with Rita Felski and essays for a collection on the sociology of festivals and for a new volume of the Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture. An essay, “Cultural Capital and the Revolutions of Literary Modernity” is included in the Handbook of Modernism Studies. Three short essays appeared in an LARB symposium on Franco Moretti and distant reading, an Exemplaria symposium on Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, and a Representations response cluster on Eric Bulson’s “Ulysses by the Numbers.” A roundtable English organized for MLA 2014, “What is Data in Literary Studies?” has been published as a Colloquy in Arcade. An essay on online review aggregators and algorithmic judgment devices appeared in the fall 2016 issue of WHR. An essay on the transnational dimensions of British cinema is forthcoming.
Recipient of the 2016 Ira Abrams Memorial Award for Distinguished Teaching, English has taught a range of courses from general surveys of modernist and postmodernist literature to advanced seminars in globlization, critical theory, British cinema, and the audiobook. In 2015 he taught a graduate seminar, “Empirical Method in Literary Studies.” In 2016-17 he taught a class on literary awards with focus on the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, for which he served as the chair of the judging panel.
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The John Welsh Centennial Professorship in History and English Literature was created in 1877 and was one of the first three named professorships endowed at Penn.