William J. Turkel

- Professor

PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 2004
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 87433
Email: wturkel@uwo.ca
Office: Lawson Hall 2267
Office Hours: On Sabbatical 2017-18

Research Interests

I do computational history, big history, computational social science, STS, physical computing, desktop fabrication and electronics. My recent monograph Spark from the Deep (2013) is available in inexpensive electronic and hardback editions. My first book, The Archive of Place (2007), is also available online. I write code every day.

Major Research Projects

In addition to a number of ongoing research collaborations in digital history, I am currently working on three projects. One is a study of attempts to build a self-replicating device, from the machine tools of the Industrial Revolution to the RepRaps of today. As part of this research, I have built a series of 3D printers and other CNC tools. The second project is a study of mid-20th-century analog electronic computing. My colleagues and I are reverse engineering the vacuum-tube-based computers of the 1930s, 40s and 50s using the transistors and analog integrated circuits that became available a generation later. The third project is a study of what Edward Jones-Imhotep and I call ‘the universal scientific instrument’. Over the past two hundred years, most scientific instrumentation has come to take the form of a domain-specific front end which transduces signals into electronic form, and a universal back end which processes them. There is a more extensive summary of my work in my Research Statement (2014).

This coming year I will be teaching Mathematica programming, research methods, digital history and interactive exhibit design in undergraduate and graduate courses. I continue to collaborate with colleagues and students on the community edition of The Programming Historian and on applying methods like experimentation, text mining and machine learning to historical research. Students I am currently working with include Devon Elliott, Tristan Johnson and Carla Joubert. Past students include Adam Crymble and Rebecca Woods. Ian Milligan and Daniel Rueck are former postdocs. I am happy to discuss research opportunities with potential students and collaborators any time.

There is a lot more information about my work on my personal website.

Selected Publications



Open Access Textbooks

Selected Chapters

  • W. J. Turkel. “Hacking.” In Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, edited by Matthew K. Gold, Rebecca Frost Davis, Kathy Harris, and Jentery Sayers. Forthcoming, Modern Language Association, 2016.
  • Yana Boeva, Devon Elliott, Edward Jones-Imhotep, Shezan Muhammedi and W. J. Turkel. “Doing History by Reverse Engineering Electronic Devices.” In Making Humanities Matter, edited by Jentery Sayers. Forthcoming, 2016.
  • W. J. Turkel and Edward Jones-Imhotep. “Sensors and Sources: How a Universal Model of Instrumentation Affects Our Experiences of the Past.” In Varieties of Historical Experience, edited by Charles Stewart and Stephan Palmie. Forthcoming, University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Edward Jones-Imhotep and W. J. Turkel. “Image Mining for the History of Electronics and Computing.” Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision, edited by Kevin Kee. Forthcoming, 2016.
  • Devon Elliott and W. J. Turkel. “Faster than the Eye: Using Computer Vision to Explore Sources in the History of Stage Magic.” Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision, edited by Kevin Kee. Forthcoming, 2016.
  • W. J. Turkel and Ian Milligan. “The Challenge of ‘High-Throughput’ Computational Methods.” From Big Bang to Global Civilization: A Big History Anthology, edited by Barry Rodrigue, Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev. Delhi, India: Primus Books, 2016.
  • Jentery Sayers, Devon Elliott, Kari Krauss, Beth Nowviskie and W. J. Turkel. “Between Bits and Atoms: Physical Computing and Fabrication in the Humanities.” The New Companion to the Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens and John Unsworth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.
  • W. J. Turkel and Devon Elliott. “Making and Playing with Models: Using Rapid Prototyping to Explore the History and Technology of Stage Magic.” Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, edited by Kevin Kee. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.

Selected Journal Articles

  • Tim Hitchcock and W. J. Turkel. “The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1913: Text Mining for Evidence of Court Behavior,” Law and History Review 34, no. 4 (November 2016).
  • Anne Helmreich, Tim Hitchcock and W. J. Turkel. “Rethinking Inventories in the Digital Age: the Case of the Old Bailey,” Journal of Art Historiography 11 (December 2014).
  • W. J. Turkel, Shezan Muhammedi and Mary Beth Start. “Grounding Digital History in the History of Computing.” IEEE Annals for the History of Computing 36, no. 2 (2014): 72-75

Selected Research Funding

  • with Alan MacEachern (principal investigator), Laura Cameron, Stephane Castonguay, Colin Coates, Matthew Evenden, Liza Piper, and Graeme Wynn. "NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment," SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Clusters Grant, 2007-14.
  • with Jentery Sayers (principal investigator). "Humanities Physical Computing and Fabrication for Cultural Heritage," SSHRC Insight, 2013-17.
  • with Ian Milligan (principal investigator). "An Infinite Archive? Developing HistoryCrawler to Explore the Internet Archive as a Historical Resource," SSHRC Insight Development, 2013-15.
  • "Computational History," SSHRC Insight Development, 2011-13.
  • "The Path to the Self-Replicating Machine," SSHRC Research Development Initiatives, 2009-11.
  • with Dan Cohen, Tim Hitchcock, Geoffrey Rockwell (principal investigators), Joerg Sander, Bob Shoemaker, Stéfan Sinclair and Sean Takats. "Using Zotero and TAPoR on the Old Bailey Proceedings: Data Mining with Criminal Intent," NEH/JISC/SSHRC Digging into Data Challenge Grant, 2009-11.

Awards and Distinctions