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 also direct Skeuomorph Press & BookLab, an experiential studio for research and teaching in book and information arts that is housed in the 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.

Over the next three years (2023-2025) I will serve as an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Fellow at the Ada Lovelace Center for Digital Humanities, Freie Universität Berlin. 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.

I regularly post my thoughts on digital humanities (and higher education more generally) on BlueSky or Mastodon, and you can also send me an email if you would like to learn more about my research, teaching, or service.

selected publications

  1. AHR
    Word Embedding Models and the Hybridity of Newspaper Genres
    Blankenship, Avery,  and Cordell, Ryan
    The American Historical Review Mar 2024
  2. LT
    Closing the Loop: Bridging Machine Learning (ML) Research and Library Systems
    Cordell, Ryan
    Library Trends Mar 2022
  3. BH
    "Q i-Jtb the Raven": Taking Dirty OCR Seriously
    Cordell, Ryan
    Book History Mar 2017
  4. Speculative Bibliography
    Cordell, Ryan
    Anglia Sep 2020
  5. LoC
    Machine Learning + Libraries
    Cordell, Ryan
    Jul 2020