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 contemporary British fiction, film, and television. His book Comic Transactions (Cornell UP) explored the joke-work of the political unconscious in the British novel from Conrad and Woolf to Lessing and Rushdie. The Economy of Prestige (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. 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. 

His current book project is Beauty by the Numbers, a brief history of attempts to quantify aesthetic quality. An ongoing digital project proposes to periodize the field of contemporary Anglophone fiction by means of quantitative analysis of hand-built metadata. Some results of this research were 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, is Mining Goodreads: Literary Reception Studies at Scale, which involves computational analysis of nearly 4 million book reviews from the Goodreads social reading site.  Findings from this project were presented at a multi-day workshop on “Literature and Human Flourishing” in September 2018, and will be published in a volume Jim is co-editing with Heather Love for Oxford UP.

Some of Jim’s other sociologically-oriented work includes “Everywhere and Nowhere: the Sociology of Literature after ‘the Sociology of Literature,” which introduced a special issue of NLH on the "New Sociologies of Literature," co-edited with Rita Felski (2010); 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 called “Cultural Capital and the Revolutions of Literary Modernity” in the Handbook of Modernism Studies (2013); and an essay on “Quality Signals in the Age of Superabundance,” published in WHR (2016). An overview of the history of modern literary studies, emphasizing the discipline’s persistent conservatism, appeared in the Handbook of Cultural Analysis edited by Tony Bennett and John Frow, and an essay on satiric form in twentieth-century English fiction appeared in the Cambridge History of the English Novel (2012).  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, “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.  From 2011 to 2018 he directed the Penn Humanities Forum and oversaw its relaunching as the Wolf Humanities Center.  He serves currently as the founding Faculty Director of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, where he works alongside the amazing Stewart Varner. Recipient of the 2016 Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching, he has taught a range of courses in twentieth-and twenty-first-century literature and culture. 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  the award presentation to Colson Whitehead.  Here is a brief interview about prize-judging in Penn’s Omnia magazine. And here is a related interview in China Reading, the largest literary supplement in China.]


John Welsh Centennial Professor of English       

Faculty Director, Price Lab for Digital Humanities