Justine Casell '81

"I use my Comp. Lit degree every day.  In fact, just yesterday I was telling a colleague how the close study of texts taught me a disciplined approach to data — to stick close to what is in the text."

I finished my Comp. Lit degree at Dartmouth after taking 2 years off in the middle of college to get a License de Lettes Modernes at the Université de Besançon, in France. My honors thesis in Comp. Lit, under the direction of Lynn Higgins, was about Beckett's bilingualism. Even though I am now the Director of the Center for Technology and Social Behavior at Northwestern University, and a professor in the departments of Communication Studies, Computer Science, Education, and Linguistics.  My college studies of narrative have greatly influenced the research I do today on building computers that can tell stories, and respond to people's life stories. In fact, I was one of the early researchers in this new field of Computer Science, known as "narrative intelligence". In addition, Comp. Lit was my first opportunity to do interdisciplinary research, and that love of the interstices between fields, of the discovery of how to applying the methods of one field to the problems of another, came from my Comp. Lit degree.
Finally, it was in Comp. Lit that I met my first intellectuals — Peter Bien, Lynn Higgins, and Marianne Hirsch — they seemed always to be engaged in intellectual debate, and to be willing to open that debate to me. I hope I am half the professor that any of them was.