Katherine Elkins is the founder of Kenyon's Comparative World Literature Program. As Kenyon's current National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor, she is developing a Digital Humanities program that bridges the gap between Computer Science and the Humanities through an innovative curriculum and a faculty-student research Colab.

Professor Elkins is editor of and contributor to an upcoming volume of the Oxford Studies in Literature and Philosophy on Marcel Proust, and her essays have appeared in Comparative Literature Studies, Modern Language Quarterly, Modernism/Modernity, Discourse and The French Review. She has won numerous teaching awards, most recently Kenyon’s Senior Faculty Trustee Teaching Award, and her many lectures on French literature and the modern novel are available on audible.com.

Areas of Expertise

Professor Elkins’ research interests include literature and philosophy, computational textual analysis, modernist studies, cognitive studies, and artificial intelligence. 

Education

2002 — Doctor of Philosophy from Univ. of California Berkeley

1990 — Bachelor of Arts from Yale University

Courses Recently Taught

Artificial Intelligence is poised to surpass humans in intellectual abilities that we often associate with being human. What are the implications for how we think about digital humanities? Can we program humanity by employing AI to generate music, analyze vast quantities of literary text, or produce great visual works of art? Or will humans be programmed through predictive policing, manipulations of social media, and domestic surveillance? Can the non-profit OpenAI build an AI to benefit humanity, or will the prophecies of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk (who all claim AI as the greatest existential threat to humanity) come true? This course will bridge the gap between humanities and technology in both a theoretical and practical manner. Each week we will present a fundamental technology like data visualization, social media hacking or machine learning through both lecture and hands-on labs. In parallel, we will contextualize our understanding of new technologies with discussions of the larger social impact and ethical dilemmas through case studies like computational literary analysis, digital profiling for predictive policing or issues stemming from potential broad structural economic unemployment. The broader goal of the course is to understand technologies driving seismic social change in order to be able to speak with an informed voice. This is an introductory survey course with no prerequisites. It is designed for both humanities students seeking to understand technology and technology-oriented students seeking to understand the larger social and ethical issues surrounding technology. No prerequisite.

The course will provide a setting for guided student advanced work in comparative world literature. Students will work collaboratively to assist one another in the development of individual research projects that represent the synthesis of the courses they have taken in comparative world literature, English, and modern languages and literatures. The course is required of all comparative world literature concentrators.

Each section of these first-year seminars approaches the study of literature through the exploration of a single theme in texts drawn from a variety of literary genres (such as tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, epic, novel, short story, film and autobiography) and historical periods. Classes are small, offering intensive discussion and close attention to each student's writing. Students in each section are asked to work intensively on composition as part of a rigorous introduction to reading, thinking, speaking and writing about literary texts. During the semester, instructors will assign frequent essays and may also require oral presentations, quizzes, examinations and research projects. This course is not open to juniors and seniors without permission of the department chair. Offered every year.

Each section of these first-year seminars approaches the study of literature through the exploration of a single theme in texts drawn from a variety of literary genres (such as tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, epic, novel, short story, film and autobiography) and historical periods. Classes are small, offering intensive discussion and close attention to each student's writing. Students in each section are asked to work intensively on composition as part of a rigorous introduction to reading, thinking, speaking and writing about literary texts. During the semester, instructors will assign frequent essays and may also require oral presentations, quizzes, examinations and research projects. This course is not open to juniors and seniors without permission of department chair. Offered every year.

Individual study in English is a privilege reserved for senior majors who want to pursue a course of reading or complete a writing project on a topic not regularly offered in the curriculum. Because individual study is one option in a rich and varied English curriculum, it is intended to supplement, not take the place of, coursework, and it cannot normally be used to fulfill requirements for the major. An IS will earn the student 0.5 units of credit, although in special cases it may be designed to earn 0.25 units. To qualify to enroll in an individual study, a student must identify a member of the English department willing to direct the project. In consultation with that faculty member, the student must write a one-to two page proposal for the IS that the department chair must approve before the IS can go forward. The chair’s approval is required to ensure that no single faculty member becomes overburdened by directing too many IS courses. In the proposal, the student should provide a preliminary bibliography (and/or set of specific problems, goals and tasks) for the course, outline a specific schedule of reading and/or writing assignments, and describe in some detail the methods of assessment (e.g., a short story to be submitted for evaluation biweekly; a thirty-page research paper submitted at course’s end, with rough drafts due at given intervals). Students should also briefly describe any prior coursework that particularly qualifies them for their proposed individual studies. The department expects IS students to meet regularly with their instructors for at least one hour per week, or the equivalent, at the discretion of the instructor. The amount of work submitted for a grade in an IS should approximate at least that required, on average, in 400-level English courses. In the case of group individual studies, a single proposal may be submitted, assuming that all group members will follow the same protocols. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of their proposed individual study well in advance, preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the established deadline.

Artificial Intelligence is poised to surpass humans in intellectual abilities that we often associate with being human. What are the implications for how we think about digital humanities? Can we program humanity by employing AI to generate music, analyze vast quantities of literary text, or produce great visual works of art? Or will humans be programmed through predictive policing, manipulations of social media, and domestic surveillance? Can the non-profit Open AI build an AI to benefit humanity, or will the prophecies of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk (who all claim AI as the greatest existential threat to humanity) come true? This course will bridge the gap between humanities and technology in both a theoretical and practical manner. Each week we will present a fundamental technology like data visualization, social media hacking or machine learning through both lecture and hands-on labs. In parallel, we will contextualize our understanding of new technologies with discussions of the larger social impact and ethical dilemmas through case studies like computational literary analysis, digital profiling for predictive policing or issues stemming from potential broad structural economic unemployment. The broader goal of the course is to understand technologies driving seismic social change in order to be able to speak with an informed voice. This is an introductory survey course with no prerequisites. It is designed for both humanities students seeking to understand technology and technology-oriented students seeking to understand the larger social and ethical issues surrounding technology. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite.

Artificial Intelligence is poised to surpass humans in intellectual abilities that we often associate with being human. What are the implications for how we think about digital humanities? Can we program humanity by employing AI to generate music, analyze vast quantities of literary text, or produce great visual works of art? Or will humans be programmed through predictive policing, manipulations of social media, and domestic surveillance? Can the non-profit OpenAI build an AI to benefit humanity, or will the prophecies of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk (who all claim AI as the greatest existential threat to humanity) come true? This course will bridge the gap between humanities and technology in both a theoretical and practical manner. Each week we will present a fundamental technology like data visualization, social media hacking or machine learning through both lecture and hands-on labs. In parallel, we will contextualize our understanding of new technologies with discussions of the larger social impact and ethical dilemmas through case studies like computational literary analysis, digital profiling for predictive policing or issues stemming from potential broad structural economic unemployment. The broader goal of the course is to understand technologies driving seismic social change in order to be able to speak with an informed voice. This course is designed for both humanities students seeking to understand technology and technology-oriented students seeking to understand the larger social and ethical issues surrounding technology. No prerequisite.

Does our intelligence and creativity define us as humans? If so, what does it mean when advances in Artificial Intelligence enable machines to think and create in ways that seem increasingly like us? As AI research expands beyond familiar computational intelligence into areas of emotion, theory of mind and consciousness, how will new discoveries redefine our sense of identity, purpose and human value? Can AI that builds upon synthetic and biologically-inspired models serve as a mirror to our own cognitive processes, biases and limits to self-knowledge? This course blends the conceptual with a hands-on laboratory approach to AI. We explore computational analyses of text, image and sound by contrasting and synthesizing traditional methods with recent innovations in Machine Learning. Our laboratories will focus on popular tools and real-world problems that explore the gamut of machine intelligence from simple symbolic logic and statistical machine learning to deep neural nets and genetic algorithms. In parallel, we will consider a wide range of ethical and social implications and explore generative art. How will rapidly evolving computational intelligence change our ideas about ethics and politics? How will it change our ideas about our interpretation and appreciation of art, music and literature? This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Offered every year.

In this course we will take a close look at the rise of historiography and at the political and military history of fifth-century Greece, based on a thorough reading of the most prominent existing ancient sources, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, and Xenophon. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Enrollment limited.

This course, designed as a research and/or studio workshop, allows students to pursue their own interdisciplinary projects. Students are encouraged to take thoughtful, creative risks in developing their ideas and themes. Those engaged in major long-term projects may continue with them during the second semester. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Prerequisite: junior standing.