Jim English received his MA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Stanford, specializing in modern and contemporary British fiction. His book Comic Transactions: Literature, Humor, and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain (Cornell UP) explored the political unconscious of joke-work in the British novel from Conrad and Woolf to Lessing and Rushdie. His more recent work has focused on the sociology of literature and especially on its institutional and transnational dimensions. The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value (Harvard UP) was named Best Academic Book of 2005 by New York Magazine. The Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, a collection of essays about the scene and system of literary production in the UK, was published the following year by Blackwell. From 1999 until 2004 he was co-editor of Postmodern Culture, the pioneering electronic journal distributed by Johns Hopkins University Press.

His most recent book is The Global Future of English Studies,  published in 2012 in the Blackwell Manifesto series.  It rethinks the prevailing narratives of contraction and decline that dominate histories of the discipline, stressing instead the discipline's expansion within a rapidly massifying global academic apparatus, and the new challenges and opportunities such sudden and dispersive growth presents.  He has two books in progress. Translated from the English maps the  geography of today’s British culture along the institutional pathways of its exportation, translation, and transnational co-production.  Another book in progress, Aesthetimetrics, presents a brief history of attempts to quantify aesthetic value.  A new digital project attempts to map the field of contemporary Anglophone fiction by means of “small data” and quantitative relationships.  Results of this research were presented at a conference in May on “Scale and Value: New & Digital Approaches to Literary History” and will be published in a special issue of MLQ, both of which Jim is co-organizing with Ted Underwood.  

Other recent projects include a special issue of NLH on the "New Sociologies of Literature," co-edited with Rita Felski (2010), and essays for a collection on the sociology of festivals (2011) and for a new volume of the Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture (2013).  An essay on satiric form in twentieth-century English fiction appeared in the Cambridge History of the English Novel (2012), edited by Robert Caserio.  An essay, “Cultural Capital and the Revolutions of Literary Modernity” is included in the Handbook of Modernism Studies (2013), edited by Jean-Michel Rabate.  Short essays recently appeared in an LARB symposium on distant reading, an Exemplaria symposium on Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, and a Representations cluster on novel studies and numbers. A roundtable Jim organized for MLA 2014, “What is Data in Literary Studies?” has been published as a Colloquy in Arcade

At Penn, Jim has served as Chair of English, Director of Cinema Studies, and Moderator of the University Council.  He is currently Director of the Penn Humanities Forum and founding Director of the Digital Humanities Forum.  He has taught a range of courses in twentieth-century literature and culture, from general surveys of modernist and postmodernist literature to advanced seminars in globalization, critical theory, and British cinema.  In 2012 he taught an all-listening, no-reading class on British fiction and the rise of the audiobook format.  Last semester he taught a graduate seminar on the uses of empirical method in literary studies.


John Welsh Centennial Professor of English       

Director of the Penn Humanities Forum

Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities