Director of Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences Computing at the University of Pennsylvania
Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature, University of Pennsylvania ‘19
Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts, University of Pennsylvania ‘15
Master of Science in Computer and Information Technology, University of Pennsylvania ‘07
Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology, Penn State University ‘02
Chris Mustazza (Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts ’15) had never taken a graduate-level seminar in the humanities when he realized he wanted to pursue a PhD in poetry. “I didn’t know at the time precisely the project I wanted to work on,” he reflects. “I just knew I wanted to work with poetry and the digital recordings of poems, and do something nobody had done yet.” To prepare for his future doctoral studies, Chris enrolled in the Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts (MPhil) program, which gave him the flexibility to dive deep into that particular intersection of interests. “The MPhil is one of the only programs I know that encourages you to take any graduate class you want, to blend knowledge and make something new,” he adds.
Chris’s interdisciplinary aims began when he came to Penn to help Professors Charles Bernstein and Al Filreis launch PennSound, an online archive that hosts free and downloadable recordings of poets reading their own poetry. “A lot of my work is finding, editing, and digitizing historical recordings of poets like T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost,” Chris explains. “Some of these recordings have never been heard before, and the digital editions make them available to people at all levels of education, scholars, and people who just love poetry.” PennSound gave Chris his first opportunity to blend his technical expertise with literary history and analysis, inspiring him to pursue the MPhil degree and take PhD-level courses along with doctoral students. “Taking one or two classes at a time, I was able to keep my job and even advance my career,” adds Chris, who now oversees technology for all academic departments in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences.
As he prepared for the MPhil capstone project, Chris learned of an archive of aluminum records at Columbia University from the 1930s and 40s, which included some of the earliest recordings of poets such as Gertrude Stein and Robert Frost. “It was an early form of amateur audio that linguists were using to record poets in a lab that was built for dialect research,” he recalls. “They were among the first people in the early period of sound recording to do what we had done with PennSound. American record labels ignored poets, and archivists made these amateur recordings so we didn’t lose these important voices in our culture.” For his final project, Chris created digital editions of those recordings—which are now freely accessible online—and used his historical and bibliographic research to reconstruct the series in the order it was made. An early iteration of this essay earned Chris the English Department’s Sweeten Prize, an honor typically awarded to PhD student efforts. Later, he would expand the 50-page essay into a 300-page doctoral dissertation on the history of transatlantic poetry audio archives.
Now an English instructor as well as an IT director, Chris encourages his staff and students alike to pursue their passions and find ways to blend seemingly separate interests. “It’s all connected,” he laughs. “At the end of the day, it's really about people finding work that they love and that changes their point of view.”