My academic research centers on American literary and cultural history after 1850 and applies intensive archival research to sites and scenes where reading and textual production operate as modes of civic engagement.
Full CV and sample syllabi are available upon request.
“Archive Notebook: ‘Writing to the Scrap’ as Qualitative Crowdsourcing,” co-written with Cecily Swanson. Metropolitan Archivist. Volume 19, Number 1, Winter 2013, pp. 10-12. [pdf]
"Edith Eaton, Uncovered: Mary Chapman's Literary Detective Work." Archive Journal 3: Summer 2013.
“Character, Revisited” (review of James Salazar’s Bodies of Reform). Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. Volume 34, Number 1, Winter 2012, pp. 145-148. [pdf]
“‘Diving in the ‘Dumps’: Myth and Performance in the Ultimate American City.” Lost New York: 1609-2009. Published by Fales Library in an essay volume accompanying an exhibition and conference at New York University, Fall 2009. [pdf]
“Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885–1970).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Ed. Brendan Wolfe. 26 Mar. 2011. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 7 Sep. 2010.
"The Great Meadow (1930)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Ed. Brendan Wolfe. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 23 Nov. 2010.
“Elizabeth Madox Roberts” and “Ben Ames Williams.” The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 9: Literature. Volume edited by M. Thomas Inge. UNC Press, 2008. 406, 463.
My teaching interests include nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature and culture; cultural histories of social and political reform; the roles of writing and storytelling in fostering social transformation; how gender, race, and class shape the formation of U.S. print cultures; digital humanities; and the history of books and reading, editorial work, and cultural curating.
The Road and the Wild in U.S. Literature and Culture
New York University Department of English (Major American Writers lecture course)
Describing her life in the 1950s, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journals, “I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” Her words speak to a desire often expressed by literary means—the road narrative, travel writing, wilderness journals, environmental essays—to connect with a particularly meaningful form of American citizenship. Plath and others sought to participate in an American cultural mythology that fuses geographic mobility with psychic, political or artistic autonomy and self-determination. American literary and popular cultures are shot through with the imagery of tramping, travel and migration as expressions of a deep engagement with or alienation from American citizenship and social inclusion, from the characters in Woody Guthrie’s folk songs to Alexander Supertramp in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. In such terms, to be purposefully itinerant is to achieve a psychic understanding of belonging and self-identification defined by a new relationship to the American landscape. This course in Major American Writers will focus on authors who employ what we will call “the road” and “the wild” and will explore these concepts as twin conduits that portray, and in some cases critique, the ideas of American individualism, independence, wilderness or self-making.
Through weekly online posts, class discussions, creative assignments, and formal essays, students explored how “the road” and “the wild” have shaped American literature from Transcendentalism to westward expansion to the Beats. We asked how feminist writers and writers of color have re-written the road in the twentieth century and explore how “the wild” may not only include immersing oneself in the natural world but may also intersect with ideas of locality and urban space. Over the course of the semester, students analyzed the formal and rhetorical strategies of literary genres while also exploring the historical and cultural circumstances in which these works were produced. Archival and museum visits and performances supplemented our readings and discussions.
Of Librarians and Outlaws: Literary Activism in U.S. Literature and Culture
New York University Department of English (Major American Writers lecture course)
Where and how does the work of the librarian—a figure we might associate with quiet solitude—overlap with the life of the outlaw—someone who lives beyond walls and without boundaries? To pose this question another way is to ask: what is the relationship between reading and revolution? How does literature inform what we fight for and vice versa? Political protest and reform movements have shaped the social and political foundations of the United States and continue to exert influence over our public discourse. This discussion-oriented seminar will examine the ways in which advocates working from within and outside of legal and cultural institutions have used literature as a vehicle for activism. Whether circulated by librarians or outlaws, are texts with a cause necessarily any different from other kinds of literary expression? What is the role of literature as an instrument of social and political change? What can narratives of protest show us about gender, sexuality, citizenship, class and race in American literary and popular culture? How have institutions of reading, the spread of literacy and the development of modern literary values impacted the cultural politics of U.S. reform movements? Working comparatively across a range of genres, including novels, poetry, plays, stories, journalism, photography and film, this seminar will pursue these questions by examining literary and historical representations of protest and reform in American culture from the nineteenth century to the present day.
New York University Department of English (pre-requisite seminar for majors)
This course introduced students to the fundamental tools of academic literary study through in-depth reading of a small number of English-language texts across a range of genres: poetry, drama, prose narratives (essay, autobiography, short story) and the novel. In introducing the primary concepts and developing the skills and methods of literary interpretation, we also asked broader questions about how and why we read. We will analyze and discuss how literature depicts and engages social relations and, conversely, how our reading practices enact (or transform) social, political and ethical conventions. Working our way through significant African American literary texts, we considered the ways in which different literary forms demand different ways of reading. Students strengthened their skills with close reading, literary terminology, participation in class discussion, delivering presentations, writing and revising, and methods of critical analysis.
Representations of Women
New York University Department of English (elective seminar)
Addressing the Congress of Representative Women, held in conjunction with World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Fannie Barrier Williams declared, “The exceptional career of our women will yet stamp itself indelibly upon the thought of this country…American literature needs for its greater variety and its deeper soundings that which will be written into it out of the hearts of these self-emancipating women.” Williams’s statement reflects her recognition of the power of literary representations of women to influence public discourse and cultural meaning. From “bluestockings” to “ball-breakers,” representations of women in literary and popular culture consistently trouble the boundaries among gender, sexuality, citizenship, class and race. As technologies of print and media have evolved, representations of women in literature and art continue to carry a shifting but persistent cultural significance. Students were introduced to critical theories of gender and sexuality while treating gender not as a singular concern but as a point of intersection where a multitude of issues and interests converge. We surveyed representations of sexual and gender difference in literary and cultural production, focusing especially on texts authored and produced by women. We considered women not only as authors and characters, but also as editors, consumers, collectors and commentators.
Leadership Alliance Mellon Initiative: Seminar in Research Methods
New York University Humanities Initiative
View a video description of the program here [Jane's comments at 3:40].