David Thorburn

Professor Emeritus

David Thorburn is MacVicar Faculty Fellow, Director of the MIT Communications Forum, and Professor Post-Tenure of Literature. David received his A.B. degree from Princeton, his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford and taught in the English Department at Yale for ten years before joining the MIT Literature faculty in 1976. He is the author of Conrad’s Romanticism and many essays and reviews on literary, cultural and media topics. He has edited collections of essays on romanticism and on John Updike as well as a widely used anthology of fiction, Initiation.

His course on American television was one of the first in the country to examine the medium in a humanistic context. Prof. Thorburn was the founder and for twelve years the Director of the Film and Media Studies Program and is a former Director of the Cultural Studies Project.

He is currently the director of the MIT Communications Forum which sponsors along with the Program in Comparative Media Studies a series of lectures, forums and Web-based activities comparing our current experience of changing media with earlier periods of cultural and technological transformation. In 2002, Prof. Thorburn was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in recognition of his contributions to undergraduate education.

Read the Community Profile of David Thorburn on the website of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences (SHASS).

David Thorburn, a founder of Pleasures of Poetry, has taught Literature at MIT since 1976. His first book of poems, Knots, was published in 2020.

Buster Keaton: comedy and art.


Subjects taught the current academic year:

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.003 Reading Fiction (Fall 2019)

21L.433 Film Styles and Genres: Hollywood Renaissance — American Film in the 1970s (Fall 2022)

21L.433 Film Styles and Genres: Hollywood Renaissance - American Film in the 1970's (Fall 2019)

21L.485 Modern Fiction: Twentieth Century Masters (Spring 2022)

21L.485 Modern Fiction: Twentieth Century Fiction: Modernist Masters (Spring 2020)

Research Interests
I began as a specialist in modern fiction, became a media scholar along the way, and have written about novels, television, media history, popular culture, and the teaching of literature. I’ve focused recently on contemporary fiction and poetry.
Knots (poems). Spuyten Dyvil Press, 2020

“Unstable Platforms: TV in the Digital Age,” Critical Studies in Television 2019, Vol. 14 (2) 160-69.

The Film Experience. Lecture Series. MIT Open CourseWare/ You Tube (2010)

Masterworks of Twentieth Century Fiction. DVD Lecture series. (The Teaching Company, Chantilly, VA., 2007; revised edition, 2009).

“Television Melodrama,” Television as a Cultural Force, ed. Richard Adler (Praeger Publications, 1976), 77-94. Reprinted, Television: The Critical View, ed. Horace Newcomb (Oxford University Press, 1979; 1982; 1984; 1986, 1999).

“Fiction and Imagination in Don Quixote,” Partisan Review 3 (1975) 431-43.

Conrad’s Romanticism. Yale University Press. 1974; second printing, 1975.`

Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, 1962
Leverhulme Fellowship, 1965
Fulbright Fellowship ), 1965
Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship, 1965
Morse Fellowship, 1970
Paskas Fellowship (Jonathan Edwards College, Yale, award for excellence in teaching), 1971-73
American Council of Learned Societies grant, 1974
American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, 1976
Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 1977
Annenberg Scholar, 1984-
Miller Visiting Professorship, Univ. of Illinois, 1985-86
MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT, 2002-
Wm. Evans Visiting Fellow, Univ. of Otago, New Zealand, 2005
Senior Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, Spring 2007
Visiting Professor, Dept. of English, Univ. of Amsterdam, Spring 2010
“American Television: Toward Thick Description,” The Siebert Seminars, College of Communications, University of Illinois, February 1984.

“The Deathhouse Letters of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg,” national conference on
“40 Years After: The Rosenberg Case,” Center for Literary and Cultural Studies. Harvard University. May 8, 1993.

“TV Culture, Canonical Literature and Evaluation: Rethinking the Culture Wars.” National Literature Project Distinguished Lecture, National Council of Teachers of English, annual convention. Nov. 23, 1996. Chicago.

“New Media, Old Wisdom” Keynote lecture: Daimler-Benz Foundation conference, “Knowledge Transfer and Knowledge Society,” Ladenburg,Germany, 31 March 2000.

“No Elegies for Gutenberg and Other Reflections of the Digital Revolution.” Otago 2005 William Evans Visiting Fellow lectures, Otago University, Dunedin, N.Z. 2005

“Three Principles of Media Change,” “New Technologies and their Ancestors.” Two lectures. International conference on the Taiwan Communications Commission, Taipei, 10-11 March, 2005.

“Toward Comparative Media History,” University of Utrecht, March 30, 2007.

“Troubled Cousins: The Dutch and the Americans,” keynote, annual conference Dutch American Studies Association, Amsterdam, March 5, 2010.

“Story Machine: 50s Television and the Transformation of American Culture,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. March 31, April 2, 2015.