Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Laura McGrath
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mcgrath_headshot.jpgModernism l Contemporary Literature l Digital Humanities

Email: mcgrat85@msu.edu

M.A. in Higher Education, Taylor University
B.A. Taylor University

Laura B. McGrath's primary interests lie in computational approaches to Post45 American literature. Additional interests include literary modernism, literary sociology, book history, and new media. 
Her dissertation, Middlemen: Making Literature in the Age of Multimedia Conglomerates, studies the epochal shifts in the field of literary production in the wake of the mergers and acquisitions that roiled the publishing industry in the 1980s and 1990s—a process that resulted in the formation of what we now call The Big Five. Middlemen is structured around four influential figures in the publishing industry: the agent, the acquisitions editor, the publicist, and the social media manager. Too often dismissed as mere bureaucratic functionaries, these professionals are powerful nodes between artist and corporation, mediating between the domain of literary value and the managerial imperatives of huge media firms. As such, these overlooked figures are not just gatekeepers, but administrators of literary prestige and “corporate taste” in the contemporary, shaping the form and content of contemporary fiction while providing access to mainstream publication and cultural consecration. To demonstrate how field shapes form, she weaves together ethnography and text mining with close readings, ultimately showing how contemporary fiction replicates corporate taste as a result of creative collaboration with publishing’s middlemen, even while critiquing the industry’s increased commercialization and capitulation to neoliberal managerial practices.

Laura is also at work on a large-scale DH project, Measuring Literary Novelty, in collaboration with Devin Higgins (MSU Libraries) and Arend Hintze (Integrative Biology). McGrath, Higgins, and Hintze have recently developed a method to identify textual moments of literary novelty, applying an algorithm used to detect genetic mutation to literary texts. Their research reveals individual moments of novelty based on both syntax and structure, thereby 1) uncovering the textual features that distinguish a text as novel, 2) comparing patterns in novelty across texts (working with a corpus of ~6,000 English language novels), and 3) proposing a typology of literary novelty in the 20th century. Pivoting between close and distant reading, they theorize the intricate dynamics of novelty both as form and as symbolic capital. They are at work on a second essay, “Quantifying the Great Divide,” which replicates early results and pursue questions of novelty, modernity, and mass culture.This work has been supported by a HathiTrust Advanced Collaborative Support grant. 

In 2016-17, McGrath was Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Digital Liberal Arts at Hope College, where she taught honors digital humanities courses and advised student projects. In 2014-2015, Laura was the Project Manager and Graduate Lead of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition lab (DHLC), where she co-wrote and won an ACLS Digital Innovations Fellowship with Professor Natalie Phillips. 

She is the recipient of the John A. Yunck Endowed Scholarship, the Provost's Pre-Professional Award, and a Dissertation Completion Fellowship. 


Michigan State University:
ENG353: Women and the Contemporary Novel
ENG153: Introduction to Women Authors
ENG210: Introduction to Literary Studies
ENG230: Introduction to Film Studies
IAH221: The Artistic Process
IAH207: Scottish Identity in Literature and Film

Hope College:
IDS180: Intro to Digital Humanities Research
IDS181: Digital Humanities Research Methods