Richard Jean So
Department of English
Office: Walker 518
Broadly speaking, my teaching and research interests center on modern American literature in a transnational context. Within this area, I am interested in theories of cultural transnationalism, the history of media and communications, and the “Pacific” (which includes U.S., Asian American, and East Asian cultures) as a coherent area of study. I also do substantial work in the digital humanities. I am interested in the use of new computational and social scientific methods, such as text mining, to model a form of textual criticism that mediates between distant and close reading approaches.
I am currently completing a book project titled Republic of Mind: The Rise and Fall of a U.S.-China Literary and Communications Network, 1929-1955. The project takes its title from a little known 1937 essay written by Arthur Christy, a professor of English at Columbia University. In this piece, Christy observes that the first half of the 20th century is defined by two massive social transformations: first, the rise of new communication technologies, such as the telegraph, that have accelerated the global circulation of ideas, and second, the increasing convergence between cultures of “East” and “West” that has resulted. Christy argues that our current forms of understanding the diffusion of cultural and political ideas – namely, the Enlightenment “Republic of Letters” – are inadequate to making sense of the present world. Although Christy would die in 1945, a group of American and Chinese writers, including Pearl Buck, Paul Robeson, and Lin Yutang, coalesced around him, and put into practice his vision of an alternative “Republic of Mind.” My project tracks this network as they migrated between New York City and Shanghai, and collaborated in a series of political and literary experiments. I focus on their synthesis of American and Chinese cultural traditions, particularly as facilitated by new technologies of media: the telegraph, the gramophone, and the typewriter.
I am also working on a collaborative computational and digital humanities project with my colleague Hoyt Long (East Asian Languages and Cultures). Thus far, we have assembled a large database of metadata regarding the publication history of modernist poems in America, China, and Japan (1915-1930). We have used this data to produce a series of network images that visualize the entire modernist field as it existed in the early twentieth century in all three national contexts. We then use these visualizations to develop a body of analytical concepts, such as “brokerage” and “closure,” to understand the impact of social structure on the emergence of literary style and content. Moreover, we have begun experimenting with topic modeling to analyze how specific stylistic or rhetorical patterns (or “memes”) emerge and circulate through or against larger poetic structures of affiliation. We’ve co-written a piece on “social networks and the sociology of modernism,” and are currently working on an article that studies the “international trade imbalance” in the circulation of poetic forms and ideas between the United States and East Asia in the early 20th century. In general, we are keen on cases that integrate sociological, macro-scale analysis with discrete readings of form, affect, and style. And we are interested in how social scientific concepts, such as “correlation,” can be used to reframe traditional literary categories of “authorship,” “reception,” and “influence.”
Our project website: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/literarynetworks/
I earned my BA in English at Brown University and my PhD in Comparative Literature (American and Chinese) at Columbia University. For my research in transnational U.S. literature, I work in English, Chinese, and Korean languages and have completed on-site archival research in the U.S., Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul. For my work in the digital humanities, I am trained in the programming language “R” and computational statistics. I have received Fulbright, Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Whiting, and American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) fellowships for my scholarship.
Graduate: America’s Asia; Transnational American Literature
Undergraduate: Introduction to Asian American Literature; American Novel Between the Wars, 1919-1945; Reading Cultures
- 2013 “Literary Information Warfare: Eileen Chang and Cold War Media Aesthetics.” American Literature. Special issue on “New Media.” Forthcoming 2013.
- 2013 “Network Analysis and the Sociology of Modernism.” (With Hoyt Long). Boundary 2, Forthcoming Fall 2013.
- 2010 “Fictions of Natural Democracy: Pearl Buck, The Good Earth, and the Asian American Subject.” Representations, Fall 2010, Volume 112, pp. 87-111.
- 2010 “Collaboration and Translation: Lin Yutang and the Archive of Asian American Fiction.” Modern Fiction Studies, Spring 2010, Volume 56, Number 1, pp. 40-62.
- 2008 “Chinese Exclusion Fiction and Global Histories of Race: HT Tsiang and Theodore Dreiser.” Genre, Fall 2008, Volume 39, Number 4, pp. 1-25
Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.