English

Yohei Igarashi, Assistant Professor of English

1. What initially intrigued you about research/teaching in digital humanities or media studies?

I was immersed in media studies from the very start of grad school, but not really before then.  One of the first courses I took as a masters student at Columbia focused on media studies, and later, when I was a Ph.D. student at NYU, there was much intellectual activity around media, mediation, etc.; NYU was – and still is, I would think – an exciting place to study those problems.  The intrigue for me was in the tensions between literature and what is prioritized by other communications media and technologies, and I wrote a media studies-influenced dissertation on Romantic poetry.  As for digital humanities: that too was becoming a part of the conversation during grad school, especially in relation to what has been the main interpretative technique of literary study, “close reading,” but also in connection with (then newish) scholarly resources like ECCO (“Eighteenth Century Collections Online”).  Since then, I participated in a UK project based at Cambridge called The Concept Lab, which involved intense – and sometimes insane – debates about how computationally to model concepts, which brought us into linguistics and other disciplines.  It was a lot of fun working with that group, and we all piled into a van at one point for a brainy road trip in California.  Around that time, I also sat in on a computational linguistics course at UConn, and that was very informative.  A little before I joined The Concept Lab, I wrote an essay on early 20th-century word frequency counts and their unlikely ties to the advent of close reading. That was a fun essay to write, dealing with the pre-digital history of digital “distant reading,” and it drew a little bit on all of the above.

2. How has entering the DHMS realm changed your approach to research and teaching in general? If so, how?

As for research: I tend to be invested in Romantic poetry, media studies, and digital humanities (among other things) and try to keep up with all three, but I don’t ever feel that I exclusively or primarily belong to any one of the them.  Some of my ideas come from wandering somewhere between those three coordinates, and at other times I’m more deliberate about relating them to one another. In terms of teaching: this semester, I’m teaching undergraduate courses, an already memorable and boisterous one on Vladimir Nabokov, the other the gateway course for the English major, and we’re reading Lydia Davis in that one at the moment. All that to say, “DHMS” doesn’t figure too much in my teaching currently.  But, a few years ago, I taught a grad seminar on “Literature, Media, and Technology,” in which we read a lot of media studies and adjacent things, including some of my favorites (e.g., Raymond Williams’s Television which often feels like Williams saying, “Let me show you how to do it right.”) And I’ll be teaching the new “Introduction to Digital Humanities” graduate seminar next year, the first time it’s being offered as such, and I’m looking forward to that.

3. You have three (commitment-free) wishes to receive support for your research/teaching in DH or media studies: what are they?

What a cruel constraint that one is introduced to the elusive genie but the three wishes must be about “research/teaching in DH or media studies”! Time is important and so maybe something that frees up the time of faculty and grad students to learn new disciplines from scratch and be uncomfortable?  See below.

4. First struggles and successes: do you have any best-practice advice?

I don’t, but I would say that I am very behind the idea of this DHMS initiative and graduate certificate, covering and combining as it does “digital humanities” and “media studies.”  It’s still very early on with DHMS endeavors at UConn, but I would like to see more connections with disciplines and departments like linguistics, computer science, statistics, digital media and design, and so on.  I realize that English folks, for example – I include myself – have a repertoire of things they like to say and do with literary and other cultural works (Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique describes well this now familiar repertoire). But I think it would be exciting too if there were more attempts to go very deep into very different disciplines with very different ways of looking at things. There would be a lot of learning of new languages, terms, concepts, technical skills, etc. This is maybe my idiosyncratic view not of “best practices” but “potentially promising practices.”

5. How would you like to challenge yourself in DH or media studies? Or what is a project you most seek to realize?

Maybe one challenge for me is that I’m what Zadie Smith calls a Person 1.0, which makes certain DHMS topics difficult for me to write on. The Smith essay is now an old essay, but it touches on things like Facebook, and it still sums up a how I feel, for the most part.  But I know too that there are interesting questions to consider in areas like digital sociality, and that might be a new challenge for me, at some point. In the book I’m finishing writing, I talk at one point about how poetry can model a form of mediated interaction that can both encourage and discourage connection – it is another way to talk about introversion and the pressing need for both of those options – and so I might be beginning to engage some of these topics, but in my own oblique way.