Jim English received his MA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from Stanford. His main fields of research are the sociology and economics of culture; the history of literary studies as a discipline, and British fiction, film, and television since the 1930s. 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. The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value (Harvard UP), a study of the history, functions, and effects of prizes in literature and the arts, was named Best Academic Book of 2005 by New York MagazineThe 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.

His book The Global Future of English Studies was  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. Beauty by the Numbers presents a brief history of attempts to quantify aesthetic quality.  An ongoing digital project proposes to map the field of contemporary Anglophone fiction by means of middling-size data and quantitative relationships.  Some results of this research  have been published in a special issue of MLQ on “Scale and Value: New & Digital Approaches to Literary History” that Jim co-edited with Ted Underwood.  A related digital project, undertaken in a collaboration  between the Price Lab and the World Well-Being project, involve computational analysis of nearly 2 million Goodreads reviews.

Other work includes 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 second 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.  An essay on “Quality Signals in the Age of Superabundance” was published in WHR (2016). An essay on “Transnational Strategies in British Cinema” is forthcoming in the Companion to British and Irish Cinema, edited by John Hill. Short essays 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 organized for MLA 2014, “What is Data in Literary Studies?” was 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 Wolf Humanities Center and founding Faculty Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities. Recipient of the 2016 Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching, 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.  In 2014 he taught a graduate seminar on the uses of empirical method in literary studies.  In fall 2016 he taught a course on literary awards, Novel of the Year, concurrently with his own term as Chair of Judges for the National Book Award for Fiction. [Here is a clip of Jim presenting the award to Colson Whitehead.  Here is a brief interview in Penn’s Omnia magazine. And here is an interview in China Reading, the largest literary supplement in China.]


John Welsh Centennial Professor of English       

Director of the Wolf Humanities Center

Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities