Contemporary Literature & Computational Critique

After defending her dissertation in the spring of 2018, Dr. Laura McGrath accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Stanford University, where she is currently Associate Director of the Literary Lab. The Literary Lab is a research collective that applies computational criticism, in all its forms, to the study of literature. As Dr. McGrath explains, “We maintain a robust slate of research projects that apply computational methods across topics and literary periods; current projects include studies of ‘voice’ in 20th Century fiction, the changing composition of the Norton Anthologies, and ‘star texts’ in popular culture. I have three major responsibilities: I lead and support Lab projects, I oversee the administration of the Lab (including our two public-facing channels: Techne and the pamphlet series), and I mentor our graduate student researchers. Additionally, I’m managing a major, multi-year collaboration between the Lit Lab and the Smithsonian Institute of American History on the literary history of Celebrity.” Laura calls the Lab a “sort of incubator,” where “co-working very quickly turns into collaborating on a project that transcends individual research programs or priorities. Being in regular conversation with our brilliant researchers has changed the way that I think about my research, and enriched both process and product in ways that I couldn’t imagine as a solitary researcher. I also love supporting projects in the Lab– I get to learn about other sub-fields, periods, and disciplinary conversations that I might not otherwise have encountered.”

Starting in the Fall of 2020, Dr. McGrath will begin her new position as Assistant Professor of English at Temple University. There, Laura will teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in and digital humanities (text mining/computational analysis), and broadly across 20th-century American literature. In addition to advising graduate students in English, Laura will also be supporting Temple’s new interdisciplinary Cultural Analytics graduate certificate. “I’m looking forward to joining the vibrant DH community at Temple University,” she explains. “It’s a very exciting time for DH at Temple: in addition to a major library expansion, fall 2019 will welcome the launch of a new Cultural Analytics graduate certificate, an interdisciplinary program designed to train graduate students in quantitative and computational methods. I’m especially excited to be a part of the literary community in Philadelphia— and to be a short train ride away from the publishing industry in NYC.”

When asked about her doctoral training in the Department of English at MSU, Laura explains: “Because the PhD program at MSU is so interdisciplinary, I felt the freedom to pursue my interests, develop new skills, and create a project that pushed disciplinary boundaries. My book project is methodologically non-traditional: I conduct ethnography and analyze large datasets through text mining, in addition to traditional close reading. My committee encouraged my creativity, and supported me through what (sometimes) felt like a risky pursuit— all the while challenging me to pursue clarity and rigor in my writing.”

Laura describes her experiences in the MSU Digital Humanities community as “invaluable both on the job market and in my work. Daily, I draw on my experience as Project Manager and Lead Researcher in the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab as I now run a Lab of my own. My two years in the interdisciplinary Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship have helped me run a DH Graduate Fellowship in Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, and will provide a solid basis for advising DH grad students at Temple.”

Dr. McGrath currently working on two books. The first, Middlemen: Making Literature in the Age of Multimedia Conglomerates, considers the role that literary agents have played in the contemporary marketplace. The project “combines extensive ethnography, text mining, and close reading to argue that, as intermediary between artist and corporation, the agent is at the heart of literary field, shaping the form and content of contemporary literature.” Laura is also working on a trade book project that considers the data of contemporary publishing; she’s already had the opportunity to write about these topics for public audiences in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Public Books (with Alexander Manshel and J.D. Porter).