annette's bookcase

My research interests are clustered around issues of technology and literacy, with a special emphasis on computer code as a kind of writing. Digital literacies are enabled by the code running the programs supporting them; while I teach with, pay close attention to, and publish on these exciting sites of digital composition, my primary research takes a broader view on the technological, legal, and social factors that shape these digital composition environments.

on programming and literacy

My book project, Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing (MIT Press, July 2017), situates the new writing technology of computer programming in a longer history of writing and literacy, arguing that the increasing prevalence and relevance of software in everyday life is shifting what it means to be literate. The chapters address rhetorical, functional, historical and social parallels between text and code: from historical campaigns for universal literacy to contemporary arguments that “everyone should learn to code,” from the spread of writing then the spread of programming in key historical moments, and from the uses of writing in everyday life and employment to the uses of programming in everyday life and employment. Crossing the disciplines of computer science, history and literacy studies, Coding Literacy offers a perspective on the spread of code from a specialized to more generalized technology and a way of understanding the current drive to learn programming among people outside of computer science.

The main points of the book are summarized in my 2013 Literacy in Composition Studies article, "Understanding Computer Programming as a Literacy."

on code in the law

My interest in programming as a literacy and the circulation of computer code led me to a branch of research on how code was treated in the law. In particular, I was interested in the ways that patent law locked down algorithms as propietary, meaning that regular programmers could accidentally violate patent law just through writing code. I've published on this topic in several journals. My article on the treatment of code in US law as text, speech or machine is available online at the journal Computational Culture. My article, "Carving up the Commons: How Software Patents are Impacting our Digital Composition Environments," was published in Computers and Composition in 2010. You can download a preprint version here [doc]. I also wrote “Software Patent Law in Global Contexts: A Primer for Writing Specialists” for a collection edited by Kirk St. Amant and Martine Courant Rife (Baywood Publishing, 2014). Thanks to Baywood (now Routledge) for allowing me to share the published version on my website.

on rhetoric and computation

James J. Brown, Jr. (Rutgers University-Camden) and I edited a special issue of Computational Culture on "Rhetoric and Computation," which brought together eight articles on code, contemporary art, rhetoric in programming, proprietary algorithms, and the history of rhetoric as a field. We aimed to bring some of the methods and scholarship of rhetoric (largely an American field) to the international software studies audience of the journal. Our collaboration extended as we conducted an RSA Summer Institute session in 2015, which inspired an edited collection by our attendees, “Rhetorical Machines”; Jim and I are currently drafting responses to the collection.

future research projects

“Dartmouth, 1966: Computation and Composition Converge" connects the BASIC programming language initiative with a British/American summer seminar focused on the revision of the English curriculum, both of which happened at Dartmouth College in the mid-1960s. Both of these initiatives were formative for education and literacy: BASIC, designed for accessibility, has been the most popular programming language for novices for 50 years, and the English Seminar is one point of origin for my home field of Composition. I've presented on this project at a few conferences and I'm currently exploring archives and contacting participants in these projects. I hope that this work will help us better understand the origin of the computational literacy movement as well as funding justifications and the history of Post-WWII general education efforts in writing and computing.

"Automatic Authors." Tim Laquintano (Lafayette College) and I are exploring the literacy implications for contemporary automated writing systems such as socialbots, autopens, robograders, and algorithmic editorial processes.

"Author motivation for open access publishing." Justin Lewis (Virginia Tech) and I have conducted a survey of authors published in Literacy in Composition Studies to better understand their decisions to publish in an open access journal. As publishing moves online and as humanities work becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, this project points towards a tipping of the balance from the “prestige” of proprietary print to the findability of online and open access publishing.

For more details about my current and future research, you can see my CV, or contact me at