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: Our Language, Ourselves: A History of Linguistic Identity, 1775–1825

“Language makes the difference between man and man,” wrote a French refugee in Philadelphia in 1806.  He was far from the only one who thought so: for the previous half-century, scientists and philosophers had been converging on the theory that every language produces a form of consciousness distinct from all others.  I argue that language served as a primary category of identity for Britons and Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century, providing a way to imagine communities of belonging that transcended the racial and national categories with which we are more familiar.  Languages ostensibly delineated people sharing a form of consciousness, irrespective of their racial, national, or ethnic categories.  At the same time that this linguistic approach to identity facilitated transnational and transracial gestures, it also produced new social technologies of exclusion, as 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 was civilized and who was savage.  Our Language, Ourselves analyzes the needs that linguistic identity served in its rapidly globalizing world by tracing the lives of five anchoring characters who came of age at the turn of the nineteenth century: a Scottish-born amateur Caribbean grammarian; a Tennessee journalist pretending to be a Muskogee Indian; a refugee who became the English-speaking world’s most famous teacher of French; a Devonshire woman who convinced a small English town that she was an East Asian princess; and Noah Webster, who had a long career as a radical language activist before mellowing into the respected lexicographer.

selected publications

"'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

"The Job Market as a Disease." Modern Language Association. Austin, Tex., January 7–10, 2016.

"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.