Dennis Yi Tenen Ø about notes projects publications service talks teaching

After the n-th time of writing a bio note in the NEH/NSF format I decided to keep an updated copy here.

Dennis Tenen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University. His teaching and research happen at the intersection of people, texts, and technology. A former software engineer at Microsoft and currently faculty associate at the Center for Data, Media, and Society, he is the author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press, 2017) and co-founder of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities.

His recent work appears on the pages of Amodern, boundary 2, Computational Culture, Modernism/modernity, Public Books, and LA Review of Books on topics that range from book piracy to algorithmic composition, unintelligent design, and history of data visualization. His current book-length project concerns the limits of algorithmic imagination.


Tenen attended Harvard University where he was awarded the Presidential Scholarship and received his doctorate in Comparative Literature in 2011. After a short stint at James Madison College at Michigan State University he matriculated with high honors from University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 2001 with degrees in both Political Science and Comparative Literature. Tenen’s was additionally the recipient of the Research Computing in the Humanities Fellowship, Merit Grant, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, and Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities

Appointments & Affiliation

After graduation Tenen joined the fellows program at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. He was an active participant in the Cooperation research group, under the direction of Yochai Benkler, and the metaLab research group in Digital Humanities under the direction of Jeffrey Schnapp.

In 2012, Tenen joined the faculty of Columbia’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. At Columbia, Tenen co-founded the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, where he also directs the Literary Modeling and Visualization Lab. He is on the executive committee of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society and affiliated faculty, at the Institute of Data Sciences and Engineering, New Media Center.

Tenen is the recipient of multiple awards, including Presidential Global Innovation grant, The Brown Center for Media Innovation Magic Grant and Flagship, Lenfest Junior Faculty Development grant, and Heyman Center Fellowship. His research has been featured on the pages of The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and Fast Company.


Tenen is the author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press, 2017). The book takes up today’s strange enmeshing of humans, texts, and machines to argue that our most ingrained intuitions about texts are profoundly alienated from the physical contexts of their intellectual production. Drawing on a range of primary sources from both literary theory and software engineering, he makes a case for a more transparent practice of human–computer interaction. Plain Text is thus a rallying call, a frame of mind as much as a file format. It reminds us, ultimately, that our devices also encode specific modes of governance and control that must remain available to interpretation.

His second book-length project, now in progress, explores the possibility and limits of algorithmic literary systems. Machines both produce and “interpret” a bulk of the world’s textual output. Communication between spam bots and spam filters, for example, resembles the conventional give-and-take between artists and their critics, authors and censors. Relying on original research from the annals of mathematics, aesthetics, and philosophy, Tenen connects recent developments in computer science to a rich tradition of thought about automated agents in the humanities. The book contributes to a broader conversation on the role of algorithms in contemporary culture by presenting an argument for an ethics of reading, writing, and living with machine texts.

Tenen’s peer reviews articles include “Networks of the Avant Garde,” (in progress); “Diegetic Density: Towards a Computational Archaeology of Fictional Space,” (in progress); “Laminate Text: Material Contexts of Digital Knowledge Production,” (forthcoming in Amodern); “Unintelligent Design,” (forthcoming in boundary 2); “Book Piracy as Peer Preservation,” (Computational Culture 4, 2014); “Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text,” (The Programming Historian, 2014), and “Stalin’s PowerPoint,” (Modernism/modernity 21.1, 2014)

He contributed chapters to a number of collections including “Archive” in Literature: An Introduction to Theory and Analysis; “Critical Computing in the Humanities” in Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training and Research; “Visual-quantitative Approaches to the Intellectual History of the Field” in Futures of Comparative Literature; and “Blunt Instrumentalism” in Debates in the Digital Humanities.

Tenen also writes for the popular press. His has published book reviews on literature and technology in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Design and Culture, and Public Books.

Professional Service & Experience

Tenen draws from over a decade of experience as as software engineer. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he developed interfaces for a nascent mobile communication market. In 2000 he joined WebTV as a user interface design engineer, and later became a part of the Windows XP operating system team. His code has reached millions of users.

Tenen regularly reviews book manuscripts for Cambridge UP, Columbia UP, MIT Press, and Princeton UP and article manuscripts and grant applications for the American Academy in Berlin, Computational Culture, Digital Studies / Le champ numérique, International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, the National Science Foundation, Modernism/Modernity, and Science, Technology & Human Values.

His recent consulting work includes projects with diller scofidio + renfro and the Digital Storytelling Lab.

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