projects, teaching, and research
Areas and interests: Early American literature and culture, the history of reading, 18th-century British and American literature
Manuscript in progress: Language Makes the Difference: A History of Linguistic Identity, 1775–1825
“Language makes the difference between man and man,” wrote a bookseller in Philadelphia in 1806. He was far from the only one who thought so. For Britons and Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century, every aspect of pronunciation, vocabulary, and spelling came to seem like a potential basis for determining who was the same and who was different, who belonged and who should be excluded, who was civilized and who was savage. Language, I argue, served as a primary category of identity, providing novel ways to imagine diverse communities of belonging — communities that could include persons outside dominant nationalities, races, ethnicities, and classes — while also offering new social technologies of exclusion. In this way, the emergent identity categories of race and nationality were already being circumvented at the very moment that they were coming into focus in the Anglophone world. Using novels, newspapers, spelling books, dictionary prefaces, and other materials of print and manuscript cultures from North America, Britain, India, and the Caribbean, Language Makes the Difference shows how English-speakers at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries used linguistic identity to make sense of the human world and assert their desired place within it.
"'A Dictionary Which We Do Not Want': Defining America Against Noah Webster, 1783–1810." William and Mary Quarterly (April 2014).
"Seeing the Rebel: Or, How to Do Things with Dictionaries in Nineteenth-Century America." J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 2:1 (spring 2014).
"Historians Who Look Too Much." Avidly, a Los Angeles Review of Books Channel. September 9, 2014.
"The Long Tail of Literary Studies." Archive Journal 3 (summer 2013).
recent and upcoming presentations
"At Home in the Dictionary." Symposium on Bureaucracy and the Organization of Knowledge. University of North Texas, Denton, Tex., April 3, 2015.
"The Indian Voices of Troubled White Youth." Modern Language Association. Vancouver, B.C., January 9, 2015.
"The Most Multilingual Book Ever." American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Williamsburg, Va., March 21, 2014.
"Before 'Culture': Imagining a Total Way of Life in the Eighteenth Century." Panel organized for American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Williamsburg, Va., March 20, 2014.