We live in a world where a YouTube video or guerrilla marketing campaign can reach hundreds of thousands of viewers within hours.

But “going viral” far predates social media and modern advertising, say six talented Northeastern scholars—the inaugural class of the Northeastern Humanities Center’s new Resident Fellowship Program. Over the course of the next year, they’ll delve into their respective areas of expertise to show how ideas, behaviors, news, and disease have been spreading virally for centuries.

Assistant professor of English, and newly named fellow, Ryan Cordell gives an example of pre-modern viral communication: “In the early 19th century, with no copyright laws in place to curb repurposing of news, fiction, and poetry—and the temperance movement in full swing—a short moral tale about the dangers of drinking might get reprinted in newspapers from Boston to Wisconsin.”

Using today’s sophisticated technologies to map communication and travel patterns, the fellows hope to glean more about how people’s lives intersect—in the past and present.

“In considering viral transmission across varied cultures, societies, and eras, scholars will inform new research, from public health to literature to economics,” says Uta Poiger, director of the Humanities Center and dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.


Nicole Aljoe, assistant professor of English, who focuses on Caribbean texts and the neo-slave narrative.

Ryan Cordell, assistant professor of English, who studies periodical story reprints in 19th-century America.  

Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, assistant professor of history, an expert on Radio Lebanon and national identity in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Justin Manjourides, assistant professor of health sciences, who looks at disease mapping and statistics scanning to identify crime hot spots.

Suzanna Danuta Walters, professor of sociology, focused on social change and justice for sexual violence and sexual identity.

Sara Wylie, professor of sociology, who analyzes online mapping and data collection in grass-roots environmental responses.