I have been at St. John’s since 1998. My teaching typically covers colonial and nineteenth century U.S. literature, but my research has focused on oratory, folklore, and other arts that feature live group participation, like music . Much of my recent work involves non-canonical areas of African American, Native American, and women’s literature.
My initial graduate studies at CUNY emphasized American novels that feature big speeches or oratorical content, like Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans or Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I was interested in tracing the republican legacy of the shift from speech to print. Since that time I have become more focused on oratory itself, ranging from nineteenth-century college rhetoric to the humor of Frederick Douglass and the speeches of President Barack Obama.
My first book was The Collected Speeches of Sagoyewatha, or Red Jacket, a project which illustrates the centrality of a uniquely Haudenosaunee psychology of an “easy mind” to Seneca literary and political traditions. A later major project was editing the school journal of Mary Ware Allen, a student of Margaret Fuller’s—a study of women’s rhetoric in the Jacksonian period. While leafing through old newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society, I discovered an advertisement for an early American female lecturer that has been hitherto unknown to most American historians: Anne Laura Clarke, who gave history lectures with an early form of slide projector from 1825 to the 1850s. I am currently writing a cultural biography of this remarkable woman, and editing a website of her speeches in collaboration with Historic Northampton, which will feature photographs of the actual slides she used, a trove of historical charts she painted to accompany her lectures, as well as 30,000 words of her actual lectures. I am particularly interested in digital humanities, both for archival research as well as for creating new possibilities for college composition and academic expression.
I like teaching at St. John’s because of the freedom faculty get to design their courses in the English department. I have offered many topic-oriented courses such as Rhetoric and Aesthetics; African-American Folk literature; Rescuing Melodrama; The Romance; and Introduction to American Studies. On the graduate level I have recently taught Introduction to the Profession, a training course in research and expository prose that includes field trips to the New York Public library and other archives. One of my favorite recent classes is called Modernization, a course whose readings stretch from Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, to Black Elk Speaks, and to Munif’s Cities of Salt. The course asks students to consider how western assumptions about tradition and modernization shape our lives.