James E. Dobson

Academic Appointments

Director, Institute for Writing and Rhetoric
Assistant Professor, Department of English and Creative Writing
Faculty Associate, Dartmouth Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality

I am a literary and cultural critic who specializes in intellectual history and U.S. autobiographical writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I use a number of approaches--theoretical, historical, formalist, and computational (sometimes called "digital humanities" or "cultural analytics")--to answer persistent intellectual problems. I am thus also interested in the critical analysis of twentieth-century and contemporary computation methods including machine learning, computer vision, and various approaches to text and data mining. My first book, Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America (Palgrave, 2017), concerns the relation between autobiographical writing, modernity, and technology in the work of Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, and Henry Adams. Critical Digital Humanities: The Search for a Methodology (University of Illinois Press, 2019), my second book, establishes a new theoretical paradigm through an account of new computer-aided techniques that are increasingly used in the humanities, including machine learning and text mining and their relation to literary hermeneutics and critical theory. Moonbit (punctum books, 2019), co-authored with Rena J. Mosteirin, explores the creative and critical potentials in the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer source code using critical code studies, erasure poetry, and critical theory. My third book, a genealogical and intellectual history of computer vision and its major algorithms titled The Birth of Computer Vision (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming). I have also just finished a co-authored creative and critical account of the Perceptron (Perceptron, under contract with punctum books), the first popular machine learning algorithm through a biographical account of Frank Rosenblatt, its inventor. I am at work on another project in literary studies tentatively titled "The Awkward Age of Autobiography" that examines the partial, repetitive, and nonlinear forms taken by American fin-de-siècle autobiography and the relationship between these formal shifts to questions of historiography within the period. In past years I have taught courses on the digital humanities, autobiography and selfie culture, the historical representation of interiority and theories of mind, the history and culture of the university, (A) Game of Thrones, nineteenth-century American literature, modern American drama, and several courses on Dartmouth literary history, including one titled "Dartmouth Fictions."

(603) 646-8612
Room 216, 37 Dewey Field Road
HB 6032
Institute for Writing and Rhetoric
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Ph.D. Indiana University
A.M. University of Chicago
B.A. University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Selected Publications


The Birth of Computer Vision (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming)

with Rena J. Mosteirin, Perceptron (punctum books, under contract)

Critical Digital Humanities: The Search for a Methodology (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2019) [Reviewed by Journal of Folklore Research, Choice Reviews, Leonardo Reviews, Pedagogies, Journal of Web Librarianship, Journal of Literary Theory]

with Rena J. Mosteirin, Moonbit (punctum books, 2019)

Modernity and Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America: Literary Representations of Communication and Transportation Technologies (Palgrave, 2017) [Reviewed by Biography]

Articles and Chapters

“Algorithmic Governmentality and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Ácoma: Rivista internazionale di Studi Nordamericani (forthcoming)

Dobson, J.E and Sanders S., "Distant Approaches to the Printed Page," Digital Studies / Le champ numérique 12, no. 1 (2022): 1-28.

“Computation and Close Reading,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 84, no. 3 (2021) (forthcoming)

"Vector Hermeneutics: On the Interpretation of Vector Space Models of Text," Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 37, no. 1 (2022): 81-93.

“Interpretable Outputs: Criteria for Machine Learning in the Humanities,” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly  15, no. 2 (2021).

“Narratives of the Later Lives of Frederick Douglass: Old-Age Autobiography Before Senescence” Common-place 17, no. 2 (2017).

"Knowing and Narration: Shirley Jackson and the Campus Novel." In Shirley Jackson: Influences and Confluences, edited by Melanie R. Anderson and Lisa Kröger, 123-141. New York: Routledge, 2016.

"Lucy Larcom and the Time of the Temporal Collapse." Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 33, no. 1 (2016): 82-102.

"Can an Algorithm be Disturbed? Machine Learning, Intrinsic Criticism, and the Digital Humanities." College Literature 42, no.4 (2015): 543- 564. 

"Bits of Autobiography: Radical Deindividualization and Everydayness." Arizona Quarterly 71, no. 1 (2015): 83-99.

"Mark Twain, Memory, and the Failures  of Historicism." The Mark Twain Annual 11 (Fall 2013): 62-76.

Pandey, S., Voorsluys, W., Rahman, M., Buyya, R., Chiu, K., and Dobson, J. “A Grid Workflow Environment for Brain Imaging Analysis on Distributed Systems." Concurrency and Computation: Practice and Experience 21, no. 16 (2009): 2118-2139.

Pandey, S., Voorsluys, W., Rahman, M., Buyya, R., Chiu, K., and Dobson, J. “Brain Image Registration Analysis Workflow for fMRI Studies on Global Grids," Proceedings of the 23rd IEEE International Conference on Advanced Information Networking and Applications (AINA-09), Bradford, UK, (May 2009).

Van Horn, J.D., Dobson, J.E., Woodward, J., Wilde, M., Zhao, Y., Voeckler, J., Foster, I. “Grid-Based Computing and the Future of Neuroscience Computation.” In Methods in Mind, edited by Carl Senior, Tamara Russell and Michael S. Gazzaniga. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.

Dobson, J.E,Woodward, J., Schwarz, S.A, Marchesini, J.C, Farid, F., and Smith S., “The Dartmouth Green Grid,” ICCS 2005 Conference Workshop on HPC in Academia (2005).

Van Horn, J.D., Wolfe, J., Agnoli, A., Woodward, J., Schmitt, M., Dobson, J.E., Schumacher, S., and Vance, B. “Neuroimaging Databases as a Resource for Scientific Discovery,” International Review of Neurobiology 66C (2005): 55-87.

Zhao, Y., Dobson, J.E., Foster, I., Moreau L., Wilde, M. “A Notation and System for Expressing and Executing Cleanly TypedWorkflows on Messy Scientific Data,” ACM SIGMOD Record 34 (2005): 37-43.

Zhao, Y., Wilde, M., Foster, I., Voeckler, J., Dobson, J.E., Gilbert, E., Jordan, T. and Quigg, E. “Virtual Data Grid Middleware Services for Data-intensive Science.” Concurrency and Computation: Practice and Experience 18, no. 6 (2004): 595-608.

Zhao, Y., Wilde, M., Foster, I., Voeckler, J., Jordan, T., Quigg, E., and Dobson J.E, “Grid Middleware Services for Virtual Data Discovery, Composition, and Integration,”  MGC ’04 Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Middleware for Grid Computing (2004): 57-62.

+ View 13 more

Speaking engagements

"Necropolitics, Algorithmic Governmentality, and the COVID-19 Pandemic," Plenary Talk, Futures of American Studies Institute. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. June 2021.

“Moonbit: A Creative and Critical Reading of the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer Code,” Library Book Talks, Dartmouth College, November 7, 2019.

"Critical Digital Humanities," Bookstock 2019, Woodstock, VT. July 26-28 2019.

“The Use and Misuse of Semantic Space for Literary Criticism,” Digital Humanities Beyond Modern English: Computational Approaches to Premodern and Non-Western Literature. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. April 2019.

"Statistics and Reading Statistically: Biopolitical Forms of Empire," American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Denver, CO. March 2019.

"Situating Computer Vision," MLA Convention, Chicago, IL. January 2019.

“Moonbit: A Creative and Critical Reading of the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer Code” SIGCIS 2018: Stored in Memory. St. Louis, MO. October 2018.

"Techniques of the Computational Observer: Mixed-Method Governmentality and the Image." Plenary Lecture. Futures of American Studies Institute. Hanover, NH. June 2018. 

“Moonbit.” HaPoP 2018: Fourth Symposium on the History and Philosophy of Programming. Oxford, UK. March 2018.

"The Cultural Signficance of kNN" Plenary Talk, Futures of American Studies Institute. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. June 2017.

"Digital American Cultural Studies." DH101. MLA Convention, Philadelphia, PA. January 2017.

"The Exorbitant Question of (Digital) Method," Plenary Talk, Futures of American Studies Institute. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. June 2016.

Roundtable Participant. "Visionary Compacts at Thirty: Literature, Politics, and the Field(-Imaginary) of American Studies'" MLA Convention, Philadelpha, PA. January 2017.

"How Literature Became a Problem: The History of Autobiography in Psychology." 28th Annual Arizona Quarterly Symposium. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. April 2016.

"Machine Learning, Distant Reading, and American Literature,” NeMLA, Hartford, CT. March 2016.

+ View 7 more