Session Details

Session Details

Thursday, 5 January

12. Open Source Lit, Open Source Crit

12:00 p.m.–1:15 p.m., Franklin 3, Philadelphia Marriott

A special session

This roundtable proposes to explore the potential for literary studies of the massively successful “open source” movement in software. With new modes of collaboration and joint-authorship having become essential to the editing, distribution, and maintenance of code and with new platforms—preeminently GitHub—making it possible for anyone on the Internet to publish, contribute to, and even “fork” documents, the humanities finds itself confronted with an unexpected conundrum. Whereas the majority of source code was once confined to the proprietary domain of industry, much of the foundational infrastructure of the digital world now sits atop software that is freely available and developed by open communities rather than private corporations. In the humanities, however, much of our work still conforms to traditional models of authorship and publication, with the majority of the knowledge we produce remaining static, commoditized, and closed off from the general public (and often our colleagues) by arbitrary electronic barriers. Since the spirit of the liberal arts implies the liberal, or open, dissemination of the fruits of humanistic endeavor, now is the time to consider whether the open source movement offers to our own discipline unexpected lessons and opportunities, or whether we should tread carefully in adopting technologies that are as untested in the long term as they are fashionable and exciting.

Presiding: Steven J. Syrek, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick

1. “Inhabitations: A Recombinant Theory Project,” Joel Katelnikoff, Univ. of Alberta

2. “DH Box,” Steven Zweibel, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York, Jojo Karlin, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York and Patrick Smyth, Queens Coll., City Univ. of New York

3. “Git Lit,” Jonathan Reeve, Columbia Univ.

Speaker Bios

Steven Syrek (presider)
Steven Syrek is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of English at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. He is in the process of completing his dissertation, entitled “Deeds Chronicled in Hell: The Poetics of Dramatic Historiography in Shakespeare’s Plays.” He has presented portions of this project at several conferences in the US and UK and organized the special session “Re-evaluating Historical Context” at the MLA 2014 convention in Chicago. His article “‘Why am I talking?’ Reflecting on language and privilege at Occupy Wall Street” appeared in Critical Quarterly in 2012. In March 2014, he chaired the panel “New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies I: Text Collation, Translation, and Analysis” at the Renaissance Society of America annual meeting. In 2015, he organized and chaired “Text Tools in the (Digital) Humanities” at the MLA meeting in Vancouver and presented a humanistic critique of digital humanities, “The Phenomenology of Digital Text”, at the ACLA meeting in Seattle. An enthusiastic coder and frequent creator and contributor to open source projects on GitHub, he seeks to reconcile the innovations of the digital frontier with the traditional interpretive practices of the humanities.

Joel Katelnikoff (presenter)
Joel Katelnikoff holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta and is an instructor at the Global Center for Advanced Studies and the University of Alberta. He is currently working on Inhabitations: A Recombinant Theory Project. The project adapts techniques conventionally associated with plagiarism and copyright violation in order to build a collaborative model of critical and poetic writing. Each Inhabitation investigates one writer’s textual corpus via a technique of cut-up/remix/montage. The result is a poetic essay that is capable of simultaneously: 1) refracting the writer’s critical concepts; 2) extending the writer’s own language and syntax; and 3) producing a metanarrative description of the cut-up/remix/montage process that guides the project itself. So far, the project has produced collaborations with Christian Bök, Erín Moure, Fred Wah, Vanessa Place, and Johanna Drucker, and it will soon include collaborations with Steve McCaffery, NourbeSe Philip, Lyn Hejinian, and Craig Santos Perez, as well as some twentieth-century influences, including Wittgenstein and Borges. Further details on the project, and work-in-progress, can be found at

Jonathan Reeve (presenter)
Jonathan Reeve is a graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University specializing in computational literary analysis. His project Git-Lit grew out of an effort to open-source, parse, and analyze the electronic texts of the British Library. He has worked as a programmer and web developer for the Modern Language Association, New York University, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Read about his latest experiments at

Patrick Smyth (presenter)
Patrick Smyth is a fifth-year doctoral student in English. His research focuses on Utopian thought and the history of science in 18th and 19th century British literature. As a digital humanist, Patrick is concerned with digital platforms for research and pedagogy. He is currently a developer on the NEH-funded DH Box, a cloud-based platform for accessing digital humanities tools, and has received a Provost’s Digital Innovation grant for an online archive of science fiction works. His most recent publication is “Ebooks and the Digital Paratext: Emerging Trends in the Interpretation of Digital Media” in Examining Paratextual Theory and Its Applications in Digital Culture. Patrick was a 2010 Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Berlin, Germany and teaches composition and literature at Queens College.

Stephen Zweibel (presenter)
Stephen Zweibel is a librarian and Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. As a Digital Humanities specialist, Stephen focuses on emerging technologies for pedagogy and data exploration, with a particular focus on APIs, web apps, and flexible distributions. His recent projects include Augur, a web app that tracks statistics about library reference desk interactions, and DH Box, an NEH-funded platform for learning technical skills in workshops.

Jojo Karlin (presenter)
Jojo Karlin is a doctoral student in English at The Graduate Center, CUNY, researching letter writing as an artifact of time and memory, currently developing a digital edition of a collection of letters from the second world war. She is a member of the Editorial Collective of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, a GC Digital Fellow on Mellon-funded Manifold Scholarship, and a freelance editor for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. Previously outreach for TANDEM, a web tool that gathers text and image data, she now serves as outreach coordinator for DH Box. Jojo is interested in digital editions preserving past materiality while exploring new materials.