I received my MA from the University of Chicago and PhD from Stanford. My main fields of research are the sociology and economics of culture; the history of literary studies as a discipline; and contemporary British fiction, film, and television. My book Comic Transactions (Cornell UP) explored the joke-work of the political unconscious in the British novel from Conrad and Woolf to Lessing and Rushdie. The Economy of Prestige (Harvard UP), a study of the history, functions, and effects of prizes in literature and the arts, was named Best Academic Book of 2005 by New York MagazineThe Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, a collection of essays about the scene and system of literary production in the UK, was published the following year by Blackwell. The Global Future of English Studies was published in 2012 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 massifying global academic apparatus, and the new challenges and opportunities such sudden and dispersive growth presents. 

My current book project is Beauty by the Numbers, a history of rating and ranking systems in literature and the arts. An ongoing digital project proposes to periodize the field of contemporary Anglophone fiction by means of quantitative analysis of hand-built metadata. Some results of this research were published in a special issue of MLQ on “Scale and Value: New & Digital Approaches to Literary History” that I co-edited with Ted Underwood. A related digital project, undertaken in a collaboration between the Price Lab and the World Well-Being project, is Mining Goodreads: Literary Reception Studies at Scale, which involves computational analysis of nearly 4 million book reviews from the Goodreads social reading site.  Findings from this project were presented at a multi-day workshop on “Literature and Human Flourishing” in September 2018, and will be published in a volume I am co-editing with Heather Love for Oxford UP.

Some of my sociologically-oriented work includes “Everywhere and Nowhere: the Sociology of Literature after ‘the Sociology of Literature,” which introduced a special issue of NLH on the "New Sociologies of Literature," co-edited with Rita Felski (2010); essays for a collection on the sociology of festivals (2011) and for a second volume of the Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture (2013); an essay called “Cultural Capital and the Revolutions of Literary Modernity” in the Handbook of Modernism Studies (2013); and an essay on “Quality Signals in the Age of Superabundance,” published in WHR (2016).   Other work of recent years includes an overview of the history of modern literary studies, emphasizing the discipline’s persistent conservatism, which appeared in the Handbook of Cultural Analysis edited by Tony Bennett and John Frow.  An essay on “Transnational Strategies in British Cinema” appeared in the Companion to British and Irish Cinema, (2019), edited by John Hill.  An essay on satiric form in twentieth-century English fiction appeared in the Cambridge History of the English Novel (2012). Short essays appeared in an LARB symposium on distant reading, an Exemplaria symposium on Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, and a Representations cluster on novel studies and numbers. A roundtable organized for MLA, “What is Data in Literary Studies?” was published as a Colloquy in Arcade.  An essay, “Teaching the Novel in the Audio Age” appeared in a Theories and Methodologies cluster in PMLA in 2020.

From 2011 to 2018 I directed the Penn Humanities Forum and oversaw its relaunching as the Wolf Humanities Center.  I currently serve as the founding Faculty Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, where I work alongside the amazing Stewart Varner.  My previous administrative gigs at Penn have included Chair of English, Director of Cinema Studies, and Moderator of the University Council.  Recipient of the 2016 Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching, I’ve taught a range of courses in twentieth-and twenty-first-century literature and culture. In 2012 I taught an all-listening, no-reading class on British fiction and the rise of the audiobook format.  In 2014 I taught a graduate seminar on the uses of empirical method in literary studies.  In fall 2016 I taught a course on literary awards, Novel of the Year, concurrently with my term as Chair of Judges for the National Book Award for Fiction. [Here is a clip of  the award presentation to Colson Whitehead.  Here is a brief interview about prize-judging in Penn’s Omnia magazine. And here is a related interview in China Reading, the largest literary supplement in China.]


John Welsh Centennial Professor of English       

Faculty Director, Price Lab for Digital Humanities