Adaptive immune recognition is mediated by antigen receptors on B and T cells generated by somatic recombination during lineage development. The high level of diversity resulting from this process posed technical limitations that previously limited the comprehensive analysis of adaptive immune recognition. Advances over the last ten years have produced data and approaches allowing insights into how T cells develop, evolutionary signatures of recombination and selection, and the features of T cell receptors that mediate epitope-specific binding and T cell activation. The size and complexity of these data have necessitated the generation of novel computational and analytical approaches, which are transforming how T cell immunology is conducted. Here we review the development and application of novel biological, theoretical, and computational methods for understanding T cell recognition and discuss the potential for improved models of receptor:antigen interactions.