Ryan C. Cordell

I am an Associate Professor in the School of Information Sciences and Department of English at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am currently in the process of building an experiential book arts studio in the iSchool’s Champaign-Urbana Community FabLab.

Themes of My Work

My research seeks to illuminate how technologies of production, reception, remediation, and interpretation shape the meanings of texts within historical communities, as well as how the complexities of historical texts pressure modern scholarly infrastructure. Over the past decade I have collaborated with computer scientists, library professionals, and historians primarily to study the circulation of information in nineteenth-century American newspapers, but these projects have pushed me to examine the influences of computation and digitization on contemporary reading, writing, and research. I seek out projects that are collaborative and interdisciplinary, drawing from and contributing to conversations in literary history, American studies, digital humanities, media studies, bibliography, book history, and computer science. By foregrounding entwined histories of the book, information, virality, and computational thinking, my research seeks to intervene in two directions: challenging the presentism of much contemporary technological rhetoric while insisting that humanistic inquiry must include engagements, both theoretical and material, with technology. For more on the specifics of my work, see my CV, while many of my syllabi can be found through my teaching page. I also provide my tenure dossier statements outlining my philosophies of research, teaching, and service.

Research History

Before coming to UIUC, I was Associate Professor of English and Core Founding Faculty Member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. While there, I also founded and directed Huskiana Press, the department’s experiential letterpress studio for Northeastern students, faculty, staff, and community members.

I began research in historical newspapers while editing a digital edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Celestial Railroad” that aimed to allow scholars, teachers, and students to follow the rich publication history of “The Celestial Railroad” in American periodicals during the 1840s and 50s. That relatively narrow focus expanded into a collaborative effort with colleagues in English, History, and Computer Science to uncover reprinted texts in large-scale archives of nineteenth-century periodicals. The NEH- and ACLS-funded Viral Texts project uses robust data mining tools to discover borrowed texts across large-scale archives of antebellum texts. These “viral texts” help us to trace lines of influence among antebellum writers and editors, and to construct models of viral textuality in the period. Between 2017-2019, we expanded our Viral Texts work alongside an international team comprising scholars from the US, Mexico, UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Finland, for the project Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks In Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914 (OcEx), funded through the Transatlantic Platform’s 2017 Digging Into Data Challenge. The Viral Texts team is currently writing a book, Going the Rounds: Virality in Nineteenth-Century American Newspapers, through the University of Minnesota’s Manifold Press initiative.

Recent & Future Projects

In recent years, my work has opened toward more sustained engagement with digital libraries and scholarly infrastructure, as in the report I cowrote for the Mellon Foundation and NEH about the current state and prospects of optical character recognition (OCR) for historical and multilingual materials and a more recent report on machine learning and libraries I wrote for the Library of Congress. Looking forward, I am just beginning work on Platform Literature: Meta Media from 1820-2020. This multi-modal project joins an open-access book with a series of technical experiments to investigate literature written by craft practitioners for other craft practitioners, such as the poems about the print shop woven into historical newspapers by the compositors and pressmen who produced them, or the jokes embedded in computer source code by programmers.

Between 2012-2016 I was a Mellon Fellow of Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia and I am now a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. Between 2023-2025 I will take up a Humboldt Fellowship at the Ada Lovelace Center for Digital Humanities at the Freie Universität Berlin.

selected publications

  1. BH
    "Q i-Jtb the Raven": Taking Dirty OCR Seriously
    Cordell, Ryan
    Book History 2017
  2. Speculative Bibliography
    Cordell, Ryan
    Anglia Sep 2020
  3. LoC
    Machine Learning + Libraries
    Cordell, Ryan
    Jul 2020