Ryan Cordell Presentation

Ryan Cordell will give the talk, "Speculative Bibliography: Between Book History and Machine Learning."

Abstract: Book historians and bibliographers often recite literary critic I.A. Richards' famous quip, "A book is a machine to think with," to insist to students or colleagues that print should fit within our accounts of technology, rather than being posed as a counter-narrative. Often, however, such reminders are defensive moves—attempts to reclaim the value of humanistic objects elided by presentist narratives of technological progress. Drawing on research from projects such as Viral Texts and Oceanic Exchanges, this talk takes a different perspective, arguing that even while computation promises new insights into cultural heritage materials, the materialities of historical media pressure contemporary information systems in generative ways. For example, the short, quotable texts that circulated widely in nineteenth-century newspapers are difficult to categorize bibliographically or computationally, as they often had no titles or authorial names attached, while their amorphous content continuously shifted and fragmented as they were printed and reprinted. Computational methods make it possible to tease such historical threads out from the collections in which they're tangled, but doing so raises new questions about how millions of branching, probabilistic connections among texts might be represented in digital library systems. Such experiments, which I describe as "speculative bibliography," entwine media histories with fields such as machine learning, human-computer interaction, and data science. A book is a machine to think with, against, and about other machines.

Ryan Cordell is an associate professor of English at Northeastern University and a core founding faculty member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks. His scholarship seeks to illuminate how technologies of production, reception, circulation, and remediation shape the sociology of texts. Cordell primarily studies circulation and reprinting in nineteenth-century American newspapers, but his interests extend to the influence of computation and digitization on contemporary reading, writing, and research. Cordell collaborates with colleagues in English, History, and Computer Science on the Viral Texts project, which uses robust data mining tools to discover borrowed texts across large-scale archives of nineteenth-century periodicals. At Northeastern, Cordell serves as Graduate Program Director for the English Department and directs the Huskiana Experiential Letterpress Studio. Cordell is also a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School and serves as the Delegate Assembly Representative for the MLA's Forum on Digital Humanities.

Meeting ID: 822 8010 2502
Password: 50706

Questions? Contact Lori Kelso