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Brian Lennon

Brian Lennon

Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Director, Digital Culture and Media Initiative

416 Burrowes Building

Mail: 430 Burrowes Building

University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 865-6261

Office Hours:

  • Contact instructor via Canvas or email


  1. Ph.D., Columbia University
  2. M.F.A., University of Iowa

Professional Bio

In the luckiest and otherwise best cases, academic research and teaching afford the opportunity for continuous learning and reinvention, rather than standing in place in a career based on initial training. Every four or five years I've moved my work in a meaningfully different direction, from (1) creative writing (with a focus on literary nonfiction and the theory and form of the essay) and general or public arts criticism, to (2) new media, hypertext, and electronic literature, (3) translation studies, world literature, and multilingual literature, (4) security studies and critical institutional and disciplinary history, (5) the cultural history and political economy of computing.

I am the author of two monographs: Passwords: Philology, Security, Authentication (Harvard University Press, 2018), a critical history of literary data processing, and In Babel’s Shadow: Multilingual Literatures, Monolingual States (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), a study of literary multilingualism in print culture. My current work is on programming languages and cultures of software development, from the machine translation languages of the 1950s–1960s to the full-stack and cross-platform JavaScript of the 2010s. It includes three recently published essays: (1) "JavaScript Affogato: Programming a Culture of Improvised Expertise"; (2) "Program Text, Programming Style, Programmer Labor: Some Further Comments on Comments"; (3) "Foo, Bar, Baz…: The Metasyntactic Variable and the Programming Language Hierarchy."

At Penn State I'm the faculty director of the Digital Culture and Media Initiative, a project of the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts. My teaching includes undergraduate and graduate courses in new media and digital studies. Recent graduate seminars include “Media Theory and Modernity,” “Historicizing ‘Digital Humanities’,” and “Platform, Software and Code Studies.” Other undergraduate and graduate teaching has included courses in the theory of the essay, the literary fragment, U.S. nonfiction prose, and literatures of migration and displacement.

In a past life I wrote literature. My literary publications from 1996–2009 included City: An Essay (University of Georgia Press, 2002), Dial Series One (Potes & Poets Press, 1999), and poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in literary journals. In the same period I published a variety of general or public arts criticism including reviews of works of contemporary poetry and fiction and essays on topics like code poetry, digital art, literary hypertext and hypermedia, the lyric essay, and the first generation of web-based poetry journals.

Areas of Specialization

Contemporary Literature
Silicon Valley fiction and memoir
Media and Digital Studies
Cultural history and political economy of computing; platform, software, and code studies; programming languages and cultures of software development
Theory and Cultural Studies
Media theory