I had a very elderly and esteemed relative who once told me that whilst walking along the Strand he met a lion that had escaped from Exeter Change. I said, “What did you do?” and he looked at me with contempt as if the question were imbecile. “Do!” he said. “Why, I took a cab.”

— Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights (1911)

John Lavagnino (August 2006)

John Lavagnino

e-mail: John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk. (See my page on how to get in touch.)

Nowadays my field is literary scholarship, though I've done some rather different things in the past. This page tries to give a conspectus of my various professional and scholarly activities over the years.

Announcements and notices

I'm pleased to say that The Oxford Middleton has won the MLA's Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition.

My department at King's College London now offers an MA in Digital Humanities and an MA in Digital Culture and Technology. Apply today!

The present

King's College London

Since October 1998 I've been at King's College London, in its Department of Digital Humanities, where I'm currently Reader in in Digital Humanities. Since 2009 I'm also part of the Department of English.

Twentieth-century literature

One of my academic specialties is twentieth-century literature, and in particular the works of Vladimir Nabokov, the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation.

In 1989 I received a master's degree in English and American literature from Brandeis University. I defended my Ph.D. dissertation at Brandeis on April 20, 1998.

Other writers of the twentieth century whom I've worked on include Henry James and Ernest Jones.

Renaissance literature

I was one of the creators of CELM, the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450–1700, an open-access guide to the manuscripts of hundreds of English literature figures of the period, published online in 2013, and continue to work on updating it.

I'm one of around 70 people who contributed to The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton, under the general editorship of Gary Taylor and me, for publication by Oxford University Press in both electronic and paper forms. The paper version appeared in November 2007. The works of Middleton, one of the greatest dramatists of the English Renaissance, were last published in a complete edition in 1885; our edition aims to provide authoritative texts and up-to-date introductions and annotations, and it will include all the works now attributed to Middleton as a result of extensive work on attribution in recent decades. For more details on the edition see its web page.

Textual scholarship

I've spent a good deal of time editing Thomas Middleton's works, and have also done some work on editing in general, mostly devoted to the impact of computer technology.

Some papers of mine on the subject are "Reading, Scholarship, and Hypertext Editions" (written in 1993, published in 1996 in a publication dated 1995) and "Why Edit Electronically?"

Dominik Wujastyk and I have published a book, Critical Edition Typesetting (1996), that documents the software we wrote together to facilitate the preparation of critical editions using the TeX typesetting system. Its particular advantage is the ability to generate multiple series of footnotes and endnotes, automatically keyed to the line number in the text.

Digital humanities

Many of the scholarly activities I describe above involve the use of computers. My work in the digital humanities has focused on the use of computers in textual scholarship, and on questions of text encoding for the creation of electronic texts in the humanities. I was one of the many contributors to the work of the Text Encoding Initiative, the great effort of our time to fight the Babel of conflicting textual markup approaches. I've been a member of the Executive Council of the Association for Computers and the Humanities since 1997, and from 2005 to 2008 was a member of the Board of Directors of the Text Encoding Initiative.

I was chair of the Program Committee for the Joint International Conference of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, at New York University, June 13 to 16, 2001. Some of the papers from the conference have been published in the February 2003 issue of Computers and the Humanities.

The past

Some of the things I did in the past but no longer do include:


From 1977 through 1981 I studied physics at Harvard College. One advantage of the department's curriculum was that it didn't require you to take all that many courses in the subject, so that when I graduated I had actually taken more courses in English, American, and Russian literature than in physics.

To date I have managed a single publication relating to the physical sciences.


I learned the trade of computer programming as an undergraduate, in a very nice student job I had from 1979 through 1981 at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I worked in the High-Energy Astrophysics Division, helping to analyze X-ray data from the two rotation modulation collimators on SAS-3 (NASA's third Small Astronomy Satellite). But after a few months I mainly worked on a project that was actually taking place at MIT's Plasma Fusion Lab; I wrote programs for analyzing data from a spectrometer used for diagnostics (that is, for figuring out what actually happened when they tried to get a fusion reaction going).

Atmospheric science

From 1981 through 1984 I worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (the Smithsonian's half of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), doing scientific programming for a group in the Optical and Infrared Astronomy Division that was studying our atmosphere's ozone layer. We gathered our data using a balloon-borne far-infrared Fourier transform spectrometer, and I wrote or rewrote all the programs that we used for analyzing the data.

Later, from 1991 to 1993, I was back at the SAO part-time, in the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division, working on software for analyzing data from the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on the European Space Agency's ERS-2 satellite. (The careful reader will note the strange fate that led me to spend years working at a “Center for Astrophysics” on projects that had nothing to do with astronomy.)

Systems programming

From 1985 through 1987 I constituted the entire systems programming and systems management staff at Brandeis University's computer center. I used to know quite a lot about the VAX/VMS operating system from the Digital Equipment Corporation (now part of Hewlett-Packard), most of which I learned in this job and during my earlier years at the SAO. My principal achievement in this position was the creation of the Bialik Poetry Server, which distributed poetry over the Bitnet (still a hot thing at the time). It ran from 1986 through 1995, at which time new management decided not to bother with it. (If you are seeking a similar service today, try Poetry Daily or the Poem of the Day from Carcanet Press.)

Women Writers Project

From 1995 through 1997 I worked part-time at the Women Writers Project at Brown University. Among other things, I participated in the WWP's project to create an electronic library on the World Wide Web of texts in English by women of the Renaissance, work funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Electronic publishing

From 1995 through 1998 I worked in electronic-publishing consulting with Texterity Inc., which specialized at the time in SGML-based editorial and production systems.