Richard Jean So

Richard Jean So
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
  • Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture
Walker 518

I primarily work on American, Asian-American, and trans-Pacific literature and culture.  My first book, Transpacific Community: America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network, was published in 2016 by Columbia University Press.  The book narrates the history of a group of American, Asian American, Chinese, and African American intellectuals and writers who collaborated across the Pacific to devise a new global concept of “democracy.”  They did so through a series of intriguing and sometimes radical aesthetic and political experiments: this included Paul Robeson’s attempt to synthesize African-American and Chinese folk musical traditions, and Pearl Buck and Lin Yutang’s efforts to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Laws in 1943. 
I’m working on a sequel to this book: The Empathetic World: Literature and Communications Media Across the Pacific.  This book explores the history of a group of Asian writers from post-colonial East Asian nations, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, who came to study creative writing at institutions like Iowa and Stanford, during the Cold War (particularly 1950-1980).  Here, these writers were asked to participate in a vast US state and communications media project to teach post-colonial East Asian subjects how to become “empathetic” in an effort to bring the entire region into the fold of American democracy.  The key to this process was the instruction of “empathy,” and the teaching of creative writing was the key to that instruction.  My book tells the story of how these writers variously participated, resisted, and transformed this project.  Parts of this project have been published or are forthcoming in American Literature and ALH
I also do substantial work in the digital humanities, or the use of quantitative and computational methods to analyze literature and culture.  I’ve co-written a series of methodological essays with Hoyt Long on social networks and modernist coteries (“Network Analysis and the Sociology of Modernism” in boundary 2); on machine learning and modernist poetics (“Literary Pattern Recognition” in Critical Inquiry) and on statistical modeling and stream of consciousness (“Turbulent Flow: A Computational Model of World Literature” in MLQ).  In all of these essays, we are trying to devise a new method of interpretation that brings together the strengths of traditional modes of criticism, such as close reading, with the advantages afforded by large scale pattern recognition and text mining.
I’m in the early stages of assembling a book project that combines my interests in American literature and race and digital humanist methods.  Tentatively the book is titled The Data of Cultural Inequality: Race and American Writing, 1950-2000, and it tries to understand the interaction between white and non-white writers (especially African-American and Asian-American writers) through the emergence of new forms of language across the second half of the century.  Through the use of quantitative and computational methods, it foregrounds concepts such as “inequality” and “segregation” in looking at this interaction at scale, across the entire field of American literary production. 



2016-17 courses: Spring 2017, Race and the US Novel (undergraduate); Text, Archive, Data: From New Criticism to Digital Humanities (graduate).

Graduate: America’s Asia; Transnational American Literature; Social Network Analysis and Literary Criticism; Critical Race Studies

Undergraduate: Introduction to Asian American Literature; American Novel Between the Wars, 1919-1945; Reading Cultures; The American Novel, 1880-1920; The American Novel, 1950-1980

Recent Publications


  • Transpacific Community: America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Global Cultural Network (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Computational Humanities

  • “Computational Approaches to World Literature,” Modern Language Quarterly, forthcoming 2016 (w/ Hoyt Long)
  • “Literary Pattern Recognition: Modernism Between Close Reading and Machine Learning,” Critical Inquiry, forthcoming 2015 (w/ Hoyt Long)
  • “Network Analysis and the Sociology of Modernism,” boundary 2, 2013 (w/ Hoyt Long)

Literary History and Criticism

  • “Literary Information Warfare: Eileen Chang, the U.S. State Department, and Cold War Media Aesthetics,” American Literature, 2013
  • “Fictions of Natural Democracy: Pearl Buck and the Asian American Subject,” Representations, 2010
  • “Collaboration and Translation: Lin Yutang and the Archive of Asian American Fiction,” Modern Fiction Studies, 2010

Public Writing

  • “Cents and Sensibility,” Slate, 2014 (w/ Hoyt Long and Ted Underwood)
  • “Donald Sterling’s Model Minority,” Slate, 2014 (w/ Hua Hsu)


Ph.D., Columbia University, 2010. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.