Liu, Alan

Distinguished Professor


B.A., English Literature, summa cum laude, Yale University,
M.A., Creative Writing, Stanford University, 1979
Ph.D., English Literature, Stanford University, 1980

Alan Liu is Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an affiliated faculty member of UCSB's Media Arts & Technology graduate program. Previously, he was on the faculty of Yale University's English Department and British Studies Program.

His research begain in the field of British romantic literature and art. A first book, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford UP, 1989), explored the relation between the imaginative experiences of literature and history. Theoretical essays in the 1990s then explored cultural criticism, the "new historicism," and postmodernism in contemporary literary studies. In 1994, when he started his Voice of the Shuttle Web site for humanities research, he began to study information culture as a way to close the circuit between the literary or historical imagination and the technological imagination. Books published since then include The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (U. Chicago Press, 2004), Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database (U. Chicago Press, 2008), and Friending the Past: The Sense of History in the Digital Age (U. Chicago Press, 2018).

Alan Liu (photo by Priscilla Leung, 2017)
(Photo by Priscilla Leung, 2017)

Liu founded the NEH-funded Teaching with Technology project at UC Santa Barbara called Transcriptions: Literature and the Culture of Information and his English Dept’s undergraduate specialization on Literature and the Culture of Information. During 2002-2007 he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) and chair of the Technology/Software Committee of the ELO’s PAD Initiative (Preservation / Archiving / Dissemination of Electronic Literature). Digital initiatives or projects he has led include Transliteracies: Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading, a University of California multi-campus, collaborative research group (2005-10); RoSE (Research-oriented Social Environment), a software project funded by a NEH Digital Humanities Start-up grant (2011-12); and the WhatEvery1Says project, a big-data research initiative focused on public discourse about the humanities funded by the Mellon Foundation (2017-2020). He is co-founder and -leader of the international advocacy initiative as well as 4Humanities@UCSB (the 4Humanities local chapter at UCSB).

Liu is currently working on books about where the sense of history has gone in the information age and how the digital humanities field can develop a mode of "critical infrastructure studies."

He served as Chair of his department during 2008-12.  In 2012-13 he received an ACLS fellowship as well as short-term fellowships at the National Humanities Center and the Australian National University Humanities Research Centre. In fall 2015 he was a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.




South Hall, 2521

Office Hours: 

Winter 2019: By appointment


Mailing Address: 

English Department
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170


Transcriptions: The Culture of Information
Cultural Studies
Literary Theory
Literature and Technology
Romantic Literature

Research Interests: 

  • Digital Humanities
  • British Romantic Literature and Art
  • Literary Theory
  • New Media and Technology


Recent News: 

Alan is currently finishing work with a team of others on the RoSE (Research-oriented Social Environment) project and co-leading the 4Humanities advocacy initiative as well as the UCSB 4Humanities local chapter called 4Humanities@UCSB (an Interdisciplinary Humanities Center Research Focus Group.


Research Excerpt: 

"I am interested in the cultural life of information or, more broadly, of contemporary knowledge work. My specific question concerns the role of literature in that cultural life. What is the future of literature when all culture is increasingly the culture of information and when even literary scholars subordinate literature to an apparent clone of information: cultural context?"

--from "The Future Literary: Literature and the Culture of Information" (Time and the Literary, ed. Karen Newman, Jay Clayton, Marianne Hirsch; Routledge, 2002)

Articles & Chapters: 

  •  "Digital Humanities and Academic Change," English Language Notes 47 (forthcoming 2009): 17-35
  • "A Poem Should Be Equal To: / Not True," preface to Romanticism, History, Historicism: Essays on an Orthodoxy, ed. Damian Walford Davies (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. xiii-xx
  • "When Was Linearity? What Graphics Mean in the Digital Age," Digital History <>
  • "Literature+", Currents in Electronic Literacy (Spring 2008), <>
  • "Higher Education and Online Lifelong Learning: Five Theses," Academy Exchange, Issue 6 (Summer 2007): 34-35
  • "Imagining the New Media Encounter," Introduction to A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007: 3-25.  Also available online, <>
  • "The Humanities: A Technical Profession," Andrew Delbanco, Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Alan Liu, and Catharine R. Stimpson, The Idea and Ideals of the University, ACLS Occasional Paper No. 63, 2007 <>
  • "Understanding Knowledge Work," Criticism 47 (2005): 249-60
  • "A Transformed Revolution: The Prelude, Books 9-13," William Wordsworth’s "The Prelude": A Casebook, ed Stephen Gill (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 341-75 [excerpt reprinted from Chapter 8 of Wordsworth: The Sense of History]
  • "The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning," The Wordsworthian Enlightenment: Romantic Poetry and the Ecology of Reading, ed. Helen Regueiro Elam and Frances Ferguson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005): 149-57 [reprint of "The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning," Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 553-62]
  • "The Humanities: A Technical Profession," Teaching, Technology, Textuality: Approaches to New Media, ed. Michael Hanrahan and Deborah Madsen (Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005): 11-26
  • "Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse," Critical Inquiry 31 (2004): 49-84
  • "Sidney's Technology: A Critique by Technology of Literary History," Acts of Narrative, ed. Carol Jacobs and Henry Sussman (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003): 174-94
  • "Remembering the Spruce Goose: Historicism, Postmodernism, Romanticism," South Atlantic Quarterly 102 (2003): 263-78
  • "The Future Literary: Literature and the Culture of Information," Time and the Literary, ed. Karen Newman, Jay Clayton, Marianne Hirsch (New York: Routledge, 2002): 61-100
  • "Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work," Profession 1999: 113-24 (Also: Reply to Letter from William Pitsenberger Regarding "Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work," Profession 2000: 186-88)
  • "The Downsizing of Knowledge: Knowledge Work and Literary History," abridged and edited by Randolf Starn, in Alan Liu, Miryam Sas, Albert Ascoli, and Sharon Marcus, Knowledge Work, Literary History, and the Future of Literary Studies, ed. Randolf Starn, Doreen B. Townsend Center Occasional Papers, No. 15 (Berkeley, Calif.: Townsend Center, 1998): 1-22
  • "Globalizing the Humanities: 'The Voice of the Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities Research,'" Humanities Collections 1, no. 1 (1998): 41-56
  • "The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning," Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 553-62 (special issue guest edited by Helen Regueiro Elam)
  • "The History in 'Imagination,'" Romanticism: A Critical Reader, ed. Duncan Wu (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), pp. 84-119 (reprint of Chap. 1 of Wordsworth: The Sense of History)
  • "Die interdisziplinäre Kriegsmaschine,"Texte zur Kunste No. 12 (Nov. 1993): 127-37 (German abridged version of "The Interdisciplinary War Machine," later published in English in Liu, Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database)
  • "The Economy of Lyric: The Ruined Cottage," Romantic Poetry: Recent Revisionary Criticism, ed. Karl Kroeber and Gene W. Ruoff (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1993), pp. 139-53 (abridged reprint of Chapter 7 of Wordsworth: The Sense of History)
  • "Local Transcendence: Cultural Criticism, Postmodernism, and the Romanticism of Detail," Representations 32 (Fall 1990): 75-113
  • "Wordsworth and Subversion: Trying Cultural Criticism," Yale Journal of Criticism 2, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 55-100
  • "The Power of Formalism: The New Historicism," ELH 56 (1989): 721-71.
    Translations of "The Power of Formalism":
    • "El Poder del Formalismo: El Nuevo Historicismo,"Nuevo Historicismo, ed. Antonio Penedo y Gonzalo Pontón (Madrid: Arco/Libros, 1998) (Spanish translation of "The Power of Formalism," originally published 1989)
    • "Die Macht des Formalismus: Der New Historicism," New Historicism. Literaturgeschichte als Poetik der Kultur, ed. Moritz Baßler (Frankfurt am M.: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1995): 94-163 (German translation of "The Power of Formalism," originally published 1989)
    • "Il potere del formalismo: il nuovo storicismo," trans. Angela Tranfo, L'Asino d'oro 4, no. 8 (November 1993; special issue on "Il nuovo storicismo"): 78-122 (Italian translation of "The Power of Formalism," originally published 1989)
  • Review Article on David Simpson's Wordsworth's Historical Imagination, The Wordsworth Circle 19 (1988): 172-81
  • "Christopher Smart's 'Uncommunicated Letters': Translation and the Ethics of Literary History," Boundary 2, 14, Nos. 1-2 (1985-86): 115-46
  • "Wordsworth: The History in 'Imagination,'" ELH 51 (1984): 505-48
  • "On the Autobiographical Present: Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journals," Criticism 26 (1984): 115-37
  • "Toward a Theory of Common Sense: Beckford's Vathek and Johnson's Rasselas," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 26 (1984): 183-217
  • "'Shapeless Eagerness': The Genre of Revolution in Books 9-10 of The Prelude," Modern Language Quarterly 43 (1982): 3-28 

Other Publications: 

  • "Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature," lead author (co-authors: David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin), Electronic Literature Organization, July 2005, < >
  • "The Future of Technology and Learning in the University: A White Paper," co-authors, Bruce Bimber, Kevin Almeroth, Rob Patton, Dorothy Chun, Andrew Flanagin, Alan Liu. UCSB Center for Information Technology and Society, March 4, 2002, <>.  Also available from University of California eScholarship Repository <>
  • The Ultrabasic Guide to the Internet for Humanities Users at UCSB (Santa Barbara, CA: University of California, Santa Barbara, Bookstore, 1994).  (124 pg. guide to basic Unix, e-mail, ftp, telnet, usenet, gopher, World Wide Web, etc., used as text for my courses about or utilizing the Internet; also made available through publication by the campus bookstore to general UCSB humanities community)


Forthcoming Projects: 

  • "We Will Really Know," Switching Codes, ed. Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming)
  • "Thinking Destruction: Creativity, Rational Choice, and Destruction Theory," Occasions (online journal) (forthcoming)
  • "The End of the End of the Book: Dead Books, Lively Margins, and Social Computing," Michigan Quaterly Review (forthcoming)

Projects (Initiatives, Grants, etc.): 

  • Principal Investigator, 2005-2010: Transliteracies: Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading <> (University of California Multicampus Research Group, 2005-2010).  Interdisciplinary project designed to study and develop innovations in the practices of online reading.  Current special focus: "social computing" as a bridge between scholarly and public online reading environments.  Funded initially by a $175,000 University of California Office of the President grant (plus $259,000 of University of California, Santa Barbara, cost sharing), the project includes among its participants 24 University of California faculty representing at least 11 different disciplines from 7 of the University of California general campuses.
  • Co-Founder, 2007-present: UCSB Social Computing Group <> Co-founder (with Kevin Almeroth, Bruce Bimber, Jennifer Earl, Andrew Flanagin, James Frew, Miriam Metzger) of the UCSB Social Computing Group.  Affiliated with the Transliteracies Project, the UCSB Center for Information and Technology (CITS), and the UCSB Credibility and Digital Media project, the Social Computing Group works on the new field of "social computing" that has emerged as a result of the increasing impact of social processes in the online documents of "Web 2.0."  Particular topics of study include: social computing technologies, analytical and data-mining methods, information credibility (new socio-technological mechanisms of authority, quality, and trust), and collective action.  The Social Computing Group organized a research workshop on May 30, 2008, involving extramural scholars, industry specialists, and others in the field.  It is also writing grant proposals (including a NSF IGERT proposal) to start a graduate research and training program at UCSB on social computing.
  • Principal Investigator, 1998-2007: Transcriptions: Literature and the Culture of Information <>.  NEH-funded Teaching with Technology project in the University of California, Santa Barbara, English Department started in 1998.  The project, which involves multiple faculty and graduate students, creates curricular and research materials related to: 1. the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts that now make "information" so powerful, and 2. the equivalent contexts that have always made literature itself an "information technology," including the cultures of orality, manuscript, print, etc.  Transcriptions also includes an undergraduate "specialization" or curricular track for English majors. [Note: Transcriptions was renamed the Literature.Culture.Media Center in 2007]
  • General Editor, 2005-present: The Agrippa Files. <> Web archive (co-created with graduate students) of unique materials related to the origins and composition of the limited-edition art book titled Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, with self-encrypting (erasing) poem by William Gibson and etchings by Dennis Ashbaugh (New York: Kevin Begos, 1992).   Since its original publication, this rare work has become famous primarily for unauthorized copies of the poem by William Gibson on the Internet.  With the cooperation of the publisher, Kevin Begos, The Agrippa Files makes available photos of the physical art book, the code and an emulation of the original self-encrypting Gibson poem, correspondence and contracts related to the work's publication, a narrative of the origin and development of the work, and resources for critical study.
  • Chair, 2002-2007: Electronic Literature Organization's PAD Initiative (Preservation Archiving Dissemination) Technology/Software Committee <>
  • Editor, 1994-present: The Voice of the Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities Research <>  Initiated in 1994 as a 70+ Web-page directory of online humanities research resources organized by field, historical period, author, etc.  Reimplemented as database-driven site in 2001 with the assistance of Robert Adlington and Jeremy Douglass.




Selected Lectures: 

  • 2009
    • "Peopling the Police: A Social Computing Approach to Information Authority in the Age of Web 2.0."  The Big Picture lecture series.  Art Center College of Design, Pasadena. 13 July 2009.
    • "Strange Bookshelves."  Panel on "Humanities and Technology: The Past Ten Years, The Next Ten Years."  HumaniTech.  University of California, Irvine.  19 May 2009.  [Invited talk]
    • "The End of the End of the Book: Dead Books, Lively Margins, and Social Computing."  Conference on "Bookishness: The New Fate of Reading in the Digital Age."  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 15 May 2009.  [Invited talk]
    • Simpson Center, University of Washington"Literature+"  Simpson Center.  University of Washington, Seattle.  8 May 2009.  [Invited talk]
    • "When Was Linearity?: Linear Thought, Graphics, and Freedom in the Age of Knowledge Work."  Simpson Center.  University of Washington, Seattle.  7 May 2009.  [Invited talk]
    • "Digital Humanities and Academic Change."  Gilbert Lecture Series.  Southern Methodist University.  16 April 2009.  [Invited talk]
    • "From Reading to Social Computing."  Panel on "Methodologies for Literary Studies in the Digital Age."  Modern Language Association convention.  San Francisco.  28 December 2008.  [Invited talk]



Recent Courses Taught