Zachary Mann

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English Literature and Media Studies, University of Southern California

2019 to 2020
Research Fellow

The Punch Card Imagination: Authorship and Early Computing History

My dissertation, “The Punch Card Imagination: Authorship and Early Computing History,” is a history of punch card systems and how their development—and related innovations in automation—coevolved with literature. Specifically, the project begins with intersections between the rise of modern copyright law and the invention of punch card-programmed looms in the eighteenth century, reconsiders Romanticism through the Jacquard loom and Analytical Engine, and then reflects on the uses of punch-card computing by artists and authors in the mid-twentieth century. This interdisciplinary counter-history combines media archeology with the works of literary notables such as Jonathan Swift, Lord Byron, and J. M. Coetzee, among others. The aim, in thinking about literary production through the figure of the punch card, is to complicate early computing histories which tend to bracket out culture by treating that history—and, indeed, computing today—as having developed reciprocally with constructed notions of authorship.