James E. Dobson

|Assistant Professor
Academic Appointments

Assistant Professor, Department of English and Creative Writing

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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. The Birth of Computer Vision (University of Minnesota Press, 2023), my third monograph, is a genealogy of computer vision and machine learning. It traces the development of a series of important computer-vision algorithms, uncovering the ideas, worrisome military origins, and lingering goals reproduced within the code and the products based on it, and examines how these became linked to one another and repurposed for domestic and commercial uses. I have also just finished a co-authored creative and critical account of the Perceptron (Perceptron, punctum books, forthcoming), the first widely popular machine learning algorithm, and its inventor, Frank Rosenblatt. In past years I have taught courses on the digital humanities, autobiography and selfie culture, critical AI, surveys of nineteenth-century American literature, and several courses on Dartmouth literary history, including one titled "Dartmouth Fictions."


(603) 646-8612
Sanborn, Room 007A
HB 6032


  • Ph.D. Indiana University
  • A.M. University of Chicago
  • B.A. University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Selected Publications

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Speaking Engagements

  • "Beyond Computational Formalism," Computational Formalism. Neukom Institute Workshop. Dartmouth College. March 31, 2023.

  • "Computer Vision and the Imaginary," LACK: Psychoanalytic Theory in 2023. University of Vermont, Burlington, VT. April  20-22, 2023.

  • "Neo-Structuralism and Subjectivity in Sentiment Analysis," CDHI International Conference 2022, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON. September 2022.

  • "The Return of Subjectivity to Sentiment," Stylistique outillée et analyse des émotions et sentiments en littérature. Paris, France. June 2022.

  • "Proxies, Tracking, and Neighbors: Belonging and Loss After Biopolitics," In the Wake of the Plague: Eros and Mourning. Dartmouth College. April 21-24, 2022.

  • "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.