- B.A., University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 2005
- M.A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007
- Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013
My work currently revolves around this question: "what makes an American?" That this query is not readily and easily answered attests to its continued critical importance. Of a certainty, Americans have long understood themselves as being made of more than a geographical location, a shared culture, and a common language (that is to say, more than the set of characteristics traditionally defining national belonging). Perhaps none has said it better than Mark Twain when he remarked that "there are countries where it is a punishable crime for the alien subject to use the speech that was born to him, but in America we do not care what a man talks; for we know that the sentiment back of the words will be American, every time—& deep & strong, too." Enduringly and mysteriously American himself, Twain is just one of the many writers to whom we may turn for insight into what America was, how it has evolved, and what it might become.
I teach courses that invite students to immerse themselves in the stories of the colorful personages who’ve contributed to a diverse, rich American literary tradition—from Native American mythologies, tales of colonial life (profitable and terrifying alike), and passionate Puritan poetics to autobiographical narratives of enslavement and the great American novels of the nineteenth century. My favorite authors to teach include Herman Melville, Mary Rowlandson, Olaudah Equiano, Charles Brockden Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many, many others.
Enlivening early American studies—and my instruction of it—is a (relatively) new critical examination of the role disease plays in shaping identity, community, and narrative. My interest lies in communicable disorders, particularly how American authors used such illnesses to imagine—paradoxically—community formation. (My in-progress manuscript on this subject is provisionally titled Macabre Egalitarianism: Nationhood in America, 1720-1870.) This research has allowed me to explore, among other topics, the mysteries and miracles of smallpox inoculation, the dank boredom of foreign quarantine, and awe-inspiring scourges such as cholera. In addition to developing courses that consider the cultural, ethical, and medical significance of disease in literature, I’ve had the pleasure of publishing other fruits of these intellectual labors in the journals Symbiosis and Literature and Medicine.
Also, I am co-editing an essay collection titled Religion and Medicine in America’s Secular Age, and I aspire to write a second monograph on how literary depictions of democratic liberal subjectivity drew on developments in modern chemistry—creating what we might call a chemical aesthetics.