Major Projects

Distant Readings of Dissertations

Radial hierarchical clustering of a 150-topic LDA model of 1,754 dissertations

My book project, Distant Readings of Disciplinarity: Knowing and Doing in Composition/Rhetoric Dissertations, maps the methods and content of over 5,000 dissertations in Rhetoric / Composition / Writing Studies (RCWS) in order to determine the areas of expertise by which graduate students signal their entry into the field, and what that can tell us about the shifting nature of the field from place to place and decade to decade. Combining qualitative coding with quantitative and computational analyses, and presenting its findings in part through interactive data visualizations, it develops a broad cross-institutional context for local curricular decisions. I find that subject matter varies widely, while dissertation methodologies collocate within a small number of clusters, and I call for increased dialogue among schools focusing on these different methods and subjects. An article based on a portion of this work, “Mapping the Methods of Composition / Rhetoric Dissertations: A ‘Landscape Plotted and Pieced’ ,” was published in College Composition and Communication. Source code is available at https://github.com/benmiller314/Dissertation-Research, and early iterations of figures are online at majoringinmeta.net/dissertations.

Some relevant conference presentations:

  • “Topic Modeling Communities of Discourse in Doctoral Dissertations.” Computers & Writing Conference (C&W). Rochester, NY. May 21, 2016. (View slide deck)
  • “Data’s Promises: A Personal History with Coding, Raising Questions About the Future”. This was part of a panel on “Writing Studies and Data,” sponsored by RCWS History and Theory of Composition. Modern Language Association (MLA). New York, NY. January 6, 2018. (View Prezi)

Composition as Big Data

view down a toroidal tunnel of ones and zeroes – image title big-data_conew1 by luckey_sun via flickr with cc-by-sa-2.0 license

I am the coeditor with Dr. Amanda Licastro (Stevenson University) of the book-length collection Composition as Big Data, forthcoming in Fall 2021 from University of Pittsburgh Press’s series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture. The book aims to kickstart a collective reckoning in RCWS with the role that algorithmic and computational approaches can, or should, play in our research and teaching. Chapters range in subject from ethical reflections to database design, and in contexts from single-class pedagogy to programmatic assessment to learning transfer across the curriculum, providing a broad base for exploring how Composition and Big Data interact. In our introduction, we argue for thoughtful engagement with data-analytical methods, in order to understand what applications are useful, with what precautions. By providing examples of people already conducting large-scale algorithmic research in the field, this book will encourage an open-eyed discussion of the potential benefits and drawbacks of such research.

Image credit: big-data_conew1 by luckey_sun, under a CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.

The Writing Studies Tree


The Writing Studies Tree is an online, is an online, crowdsourced database of academic genealogies within writing studies; in other words, it is an interactive archive for recording and mapping scholarly relationships in Composition and Rhetoric and adjacent disciplines. In my role as lead developer, I have designed the data architecture, tested a number of different platforms before settling on Drupal, built out and maintained the Drupal backend, and coordinated with programmers and my partners in directing the development of new features such as the D3 visualizations and filters. I was also the lead writer, with Amanda Licastro, on several grants, including three successful awards (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) from the Provost’s Digital Innovation initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center. Using that grant funding, I am currently seeking consultants and developers in user experience design. Please contact me if you are interested in working on the Writing Studies Tree!

For a short video introduction, see this presentation from a CUNY Digital GC event in May 2014:

The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy


As part of the founding editorial team of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, I helped to craft the mission statement and review policies of this open-access online journal, which released its first issue in February 2012. Committed to the idea that the journal should promote learning experiences throughout its processes as well as its products, as coeditor (with Joseph Ugoretz) of Issue Two I introduced the “Behind the Seams” feature, which opens a reflective space for conversation about feedback and revisions that are often hidden for publication; my editorial work on that issue also led to the adoption of an internal Style & Structure review team to offer authors formative feedback, assisting them in communicating ideas clearly and implementing suggestions from subject-based reviews. Still an active member of the editorial collective, I have served as reviewer, copy editor, and editor for structure and style, as well as participating in collective debate and decision-making.

To view the current issue and most recent short-form pieces, visit http://jitpedagogy.org.

And please don’t miss my teaching and writing: those are ongoing projects, too!

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