Alex Sherman, a Ph.D. candidate in English literature, studies literature and science in the eighteenth century, along with the digital humanities and the geography of colonialism.
His dissertation, Terrors Near and Far: Virtual Positions in Scientific, Maritime, and Gothic Writing, connects narrative form and ways of knowing. Turning to British writing since the early eighteenth century, he traces the growing importance of the virtual position, a disembodied, abstracted observer that corresponds to nobody. He tracks the refinement of this eerie position through an interchange among scientific writing, maritime literature, and terrifying fiction, especially the Gothic. The virtual position became a broadly-applied literary technology because it negotiated the social and material perils of knowing across a dispersed maritime empire, serving especially as a way to represent, inspire, and manage terror—danger that hovers between the near and the far. He concludes that this major epistemic standard, one central to scientific knowledge, is symbiotic with the terrors accompanying the construction of colonial space, where to know is to terrorize and to be terrified. Terrors Near and Far ends by asking how we can know better, considering what alternative positions could overcome this colonial legacy.
Alex is also a coordinator for the Stanford Literary Lab. In addition to helping administer the Lab, he works on digital humanities projects there, with completed and ongoing projects including: an analysis of what “voice” means in the contemporary literary marketplace; a comparison of real and imagined geographies of the maritime British empire using place names in literature and the itineraries of period Navy, East India Company, and slave trading ships; a study of post-World War II domestic technology, focusing on the gendered regulation of labor, in the Women’s Magazine Archive; and a history of the increasing use of the passive voice in the publications of the Royal Society of London.
At Stanford, Alex serves as a graduate coordinator at the Center for the Study of the Novel. He has helped organize and run a conference on “The Turn Against Fictionality,” the annual Ian Watt Lecture in the History and Theory of the Novel, and the Working Group on Narrative.
His work has appeared in Cultural Analytics and Post45 and is forthcoming in Eighteenth-Century Studies. He has designed and taught courses on travel literature and the Bildungsroman and on the relationship between scientific and cultural representations of infectious diseases.