Brian Lennon

Brian Lennon

Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Preferred Pronouns: he, him, his
416 Burrowes Bldg.
(814) 865-6261


Ph.D., Columbia University (2005)
M.F.A., University of Iowa (1999)
B.A., Wesleyan University (1993)

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 was the first faculty director (2014–2021) of the Digital Culture and Media Initiative, a project of the Department of English in the College of the 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.

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