James E. Dobson

Academic Appointments
  • Assistant Professor, Department of English and Creative Writing

  • Director, Institute for Writing and Rhetoric

  • Faculty Associate, Dartmouth Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality

Connect with Us

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 formalist, theoretical, and computational (sometimes called "digital humanities" or "cultural analytics") approaches 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 for the digital humanities 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. Another recent book, 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. I have just finished my third major book, a genealogical and intellectual history of computer vision and its major algorithms presently titled The Birth of Computer Vision (University of Minnesota Press, under contract). I have also just finished a co-authored creative and critical account of the Perceptron, 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


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

Selected Publications

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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.