Professional and Biographical Information
Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University (1990)
M.A., The Johns Hopkins University (1986)
B.A. Cantab, Cambridge University (1983)
B.A., Williams College (1981)
Perched between English and American Studies, I remain fascinated with how literature interacts with social structures and participates in social change. My particular focus is on the literature of the mid-nineteenth century United States: the well known works of the American Renaissance but also less canonical forms of writing from the reform literature of the abolitionist or temperance movements to school books. I find that it is often in these more ephemeral genres that the anxieties and desires of a period can be most clearly apprehended. In my first book, Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism and the Politics of the Body (California,1993) I looked at how the political rhetoric of the abolitionist and feminist movements, and their ways of talking about the body, left traces on a wide range of nineteenth-century American writing, not only fiction or personal narratives that directly addressed these political issues, but even the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
My more recent work also explores the question of who gets to be included in the national story. In Dependent States: The Child's Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Chicago, 2005), I ask what happens to our understanding of U.S. culture once we acknowledge children as historical actors, recognizing them as participants in the making of social and cultural meaning. I believe that age, just as much as class, race or gender, provides a salient category for analysis, and that paying attention to age changes not just what we see but what questions we ask, and our very methods of interpretation. Together with other Five-College colleagues I have helped launch the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, the founding journal for this burgeoning field.
In my research on childhood I strove to include children's voices and perspectives, and inevitably that entailed mining manuscript sources. Children after all, rarely have access to the kinds of cultural or monetary capital that would enable them to get their words into print. I am presently juggling two projects that have grown out of my archival research in childhood studies. The Unpublished Republic looks at manuscript books, a form of literary production that was generally not intended for publication, and that therefore proves useful for exploring the contours of the public sphere, and the mediums and limits of inclusion in it. The manuscript books I am studying range from a library of tiny picture-books made by two generations of children in the same Boston family, or a friendship album made by a young man from China for his teacher at a Foreign Mission school in Connecticut, to Julia Ward Howe's 1846 unpublished novel about a hermaphrodite. Closed out from print by age, race, and subject matter, these manuscript and the literary practices that created them forge alternative public spheres that stand in self-conscious juxtaposition to and conversation with the realm of printed things. In this work too I see literature as a form and site of enfranchisement. In the Archives of Childhood explores various ways that we strive to hold our relation to the past, theorizing the ties between archival work, library and museum collections, memory, and the personal past that is childhood.
I serve on the governing boards of the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation, have published essays on museums as sites of interpretation, and, together with Cristanne Miller, have edited The Oxford Handbook of Emily Dickinson (2022).
Similar questions of social meaning and cultural production underlie my courses on nineteenth-century American literature. I feel immensely lucky to be teaching this subject in a place so rich in local resources and materials. I teach a seminar on Emily Dickinson that meets in the Dickinson Homestead and that develops programs and exhibits for the Emily Dickinson Museum. Many of my literature courses require archival research on nineteenth-century documents, and in my course on working with manuscripts, students engage in their own acts of literary recovery. I am committed to community-based learning and regularly teach courses that connect student with internships at local public schools, adult basic education centers, and a range of feminist and social service organizations. I have become interested in digital humanities initiatives, and in the spring of 2014 taught a Mellon Research Seminar to build a website displaying the homemade books and photographs of three boys who lived in the small town of Goshen New Hampshire in the 1890s. Do visit "The Worlds and Works of the Nelson Brothers" which was reviewed in Slate.
Awards and Honors
Distinguished Scholar in Residence, American Antiquarian Society, 2019-2020
Winterthur Research Fellow, 2015
Andrew W. Mellon / Lloyd Lewis Fellow in American History at the Newberry Library, 2014-15
American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, 2014-2015
President C19, Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 2014-2016
Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, 2010-2011
American Antiquarian Society, elected to membership, 2005
Fulbright, Senior Lectureship at Universidad de Málaga, Spain, Spring 2002
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, Fall 2002
Herchel Smith Scholarship for two years of study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Granted by Williams College, 1981-1983
Scholarly and Professional Activities
Editor with Cristianne Miller of The Oxford Handbook to Emily Dickinson
Founding Editor, Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth
Modern Language Association Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities
Editorial Board, American Literature
Board of Governors, The Emily Dickinson Museum
President of the Board of Trustees, Porter Phelps Huntington Foundation
Founding Member Northeast Nineteenth-Century Women Writers Study Group
Executive Committee, Modern Language Association Nineteenth-Century American Literature Division
Past President and Executive Committee Member, C19: Society of Nineteenth Century Americanists
Editorial Board, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
See Also: Research Interests