Punch Card

Research Summary

My scholarship weaves between histories of technology, media archaeology, literary history, and new media. I am interested in the ways burgeoning technologies of the past, both in historical accounts and as represented in literature, inform our relationships to technology today. My approach to studying new media and digital culture is twofold: I look at the source code directly and consider the corporate and governmental motivations behind software, but I also consider flash points in history which have oriented us to experience new technologies in ways that were not, as we might believe, inevitable. From the data-tables collected in France during the French Revolution to IBM’s origins in U.S. western expansion to the rise of predictive policing today, no technology develops in a vacuum. I have written, for instance, on how naturalist literature’s response to railroad empires in the late 19C has informed our conceptualization of cyberspace in the 1980s, and on how Romantic closet drama might inform the way we approach digital-born art. Most recently, I have been studying punch card systems, described in more detail below.

Other research interests include feminist film histories, sports and social justice, and science fiction.

MYB Textiles
A Jacquard loom punch card library, MYB Textiles, Newmilns, UK, 2019


My dissertation, “The Punch Card Imagination: Authorship and Early Machine Programming,” is supported by a Mellon—Council for European Studies Dissertation Completion Fellowship and was previously supported by a Mellon Humanities in a Digital World Fellowship. The project traces the development of punch card systems alongside literary history, from the automated silk looms of the 1720s to the rise of the personal computer in the 1970s. Each chapter brings new context to representations of intellectual labor in literature and science writing by reading these texts through punch cards: disposable strips of cardboard which deliver instructions to machines via binary patterns. I argue that each successive punch card innovation—the loom, the calculator, and the computer—embodies, influences, and is influenced by changing ideas around the creative process.

For more information, a research statement is available upon request (email in footer). Or, see my interview for Hagley Library.

Selected Other Works

In addition to the above research agenda, I have occasionally written on film history. Whereas my interest in computing stems from my professional experience in Quality Assurance and web design, I have been writing on film since an undergraduate thesis on films noir and a personal blog in which I reviewed films from the 1970s. During graduate school, I published two essays on film: one, on The Birds, is available free online here; the other, on the career of the actress Myrna Loy, is behind paywall here.