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October 28: Ryan Cordell, “Programmable Type: the Craft of Printing, the Craft of Code”

Posted by on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 in Events.

Saturday, October 28, 10:00 am, at The Wond’ry, 2414 Highland Avenue, Suite 102

Keynote speaker for THATCamp Vanderbilt 2017

Ryan Cordell

Ryan Cordell is Assistant Professor of English at Northeastern University and a Core Founding Faculty Member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks. His scholarship focuses on convergences among literary, periodical, and religious culture in antebellum American mass media. Cordell collaborates with colleagues in English, History, and Computer Science on the NEH- and ACLS-funded Viral Texts project, which is using robust data mining tools to discover borrowed texts across large-scale archives of antebellum texts. Cordell is also a primary investigator in the Digging Into Data project Oceanic Exchanges, a six-nation project examining patterns of information flow across national and linguistic boundaries in nineteenth century newspapers. Cordell is also a Fellow in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia and serves on the Executive Committee of the MLA’s Forum on Bibliography and Scholarly Editing.

Programmable Type: the Craft of Printing, the Craft of Code

This talk will take textual craft as its central theme, seeking to illuminate conversations about computer coding in the twenty-first century through parallels with letterpress printing in earlier eras. These technologies of text may seem very different, but they share essential features of deliberation, planning, execution, industry, and automation. There has been much discussion about whether coding should be considered a variety of writing: and whether it should be taught in the standard curriculum, alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic. This talk will propose another way of looking at the question, developed through two parallel lines of thought: the first pedagogical, drawn from a class in which students learn both letterpress and coding (, the second methodological, drawn from a research project employing complex computational tools to identify practices of reprinting in nineteenth—century newspapers ( Through these examples, the talk will position composing and coding as textual craftwork, linked through their formalism: the precise structures of cold type, furniture, and printing frames in one instance and the equally exacting structures of functions, loops, and dataframes in the other. Such formal constraints can, perhaps paradoxically, foster immense creativity in design or analysis. Computational text analyses, for instance, can open recursive exchanges between humanistic data and the historical objects from which they are derived, placing both the historical and the contemporary into new and unexpected contexts. This talk resists narratives of radical historical rupture in the digital age, insisting instead that computation be considered within the continuum of textual production and labor that has long been the primary subject of book, literary, and media historians.