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, paving the way for the much later concept of “culture.”  Language Makes the Difference is a story about this forgotten episode in the cultural history of linguistic ideas, drawing on discussions of language in newspapers, novels, spelling books, and diaries to show how Britons and Americans used linguistic analysis to make sense of the human and national diversity within the English-speaking world as well as far beyond it.

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 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.

"Pure English: On Not Declaring Linguistic Independence." Society of Early Americanists. Savannah, Ga., 2 March 2013.