My research and teaching areas have widened considerably during my career at Penn State. I teach and research in early modern, American, Native American, early African American, and environmental studies. Across my career at Penn State, I have published eleven books and over sixty articles and chapters in books on a variety of subjects.
My Research and Professional Service
Benjamin Franklin is my current preoccupation. My book, Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire, was published in June 2015 by Oxford University Press. I'm gratified by the highly favorable reviews the book has received thus far. The book traces Franklin’s attitudes about trade and populations in the context of the growing number of debates about what it meant to be both liberal and British during the eighteenth century. I published The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Franklin in 2009. I have also published over a dozen essays and chapters in books on Franklin. My new book in progress, Benjamin Franklin's Electrical Diplomacy, will tap my intersecting interests in the history of science, politics, and media studies. I have already begun working on this book and have delivered talks related to it at the Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland, Pa., and at three different meetings of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (a national scholarly organization).
My scholarship on Franklin has benefited from fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
I won the 2012 Bibliographical Society of America’s William L. Mitchell Prize, for scholarship in early British periodicals. The prize was awarded for my essay, “Benjamin Franklin’s Savage Eloquence: Hoaxes from the Press at Passy, 1782,” published in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 152, iv (Dec. 2008), 490-520.
I have served a number of professional societies, including the Society of Early Americanists (SEA), which I developed and was instrumental in founding. While serving as President of the SEA, I also served the American Literature to 1800 Division of the Modern Language Association. I am currently serving the Advisory Council of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, a group centered at the University of Pennsylvania. And I have been elected again to serve on the Council of the Pennsylvania Historical Association. The journal editorial boards I have served include American Literature, Early American Literature, Early American Studies, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. I am a member of the American Antiquarian Society and a shareholder in the Library Company of Philadelphia.
My Undergraduate Teaching
Undergraduate teaching has enabled me to test my research and pedagogical capabilities in classes that range from the "great traditions" courses for freshmen to the senior seminar in English. Current areas my students and I are exploring at the undergraduate level relate to Native studies, environmental studies, Benjamin Franklin, and the American West. I also love teaching the undergraduate literature survey, because I think undergraduates' experience of literary history reveals much about today's culture and the crisis in history education.
I like to challenge students to think about ethical matters as these relate to literature and culture. In several of my courses, the students work on blogs associated with what we have been studying. This is a way to bring out to the public the scholarly endeavors that otherwise would remain inside the proverbial ivy tower.
I have directed thirteen honors theses for the Schreyer Honors College. Some of these students went on to graduate school, some entered the business world, some became teachers, one entered the Peace Corps, and another was awarded a Fulbright international scholarship.
My Graduate Teaching
My courses at the graduate level introduce students to topics in conversation among scholars, and many students who take my classes go on to publish their essays in scholarly journals. Indeed, more than ten students from recent seminars have published papers originally written in my classes. But publication is only one goal of my pedagogy.
My primary goal is that students develop mastery of the field by engaging collaboratively in their learning experiences. My courses in the last several years have related to imperial enlightenments ("Enlightenment against Empire," 2009), early environmental writing ("Nature's Nation," 2010), literacies in early American studies ("Early American Literacies," 2011), and the history of science ("The Science of Empire," 2013). In the spring 2015, I offered a seminar connecting several of these topics - Race, Environment, Enlightenment - and I am repeating this topic in my current (Spring 2017) seminar. One student from the 2015 seminar has had his paper accepted for publication in a prestigious collection of essays soon to be published by Cambridge University Press. In the last seven years of graduate seminars I've taught, at least one student from each seminar (of seven) has published the seminar essay in a professional journal.
My Wonderful Dissertation Students!
I have directed dissertations in several fields, including the area of my own dissertation specialty (transatlantic eighteenth century and enlightenment studies), along with nineteenth- and twentieth-century American studies, and African American, Native American, and Asian American studies. My students are flourishing in careers of their own at a variety of academic institutions, where they are in tenure-line positions. All of my students work in multiple genres and media (from traditional literary culture to visual media and cyber culture) and multiple centuries. Their work has benefited from the range of opportunities Penn State graduate study in English can offer them.
I'm so proud of all of my students, most of whom have attained tenure track and tenured positions with their Penn State degrees under my direction.
What's more important to me is that they are just AMAZING people!
Mark Sturges earned his PhD in American literature of the environment and environmental studies in 2013. Mark has already won a "best article" award for an essay that began as a seminar paper in my 2009 graduate seminar, "Nature's Nation"! Check out his brilliant essay on Jefferson in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Mark is Assistant Professor of English and Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University.
Mathew C. RudeWalker earned his PhD in 2013 in Native studies. Mat is interested in historicizing contemporary Native sovereignty and resistance efforts by revealing a persistent pattern of resistance against land takeovers from the seventeenth century onward. Mat has been a Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow at Penn State since earning his degree.
Rochelle Raineri Zuck (PhD 2008) is Associate Professor of English at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where she teaches courses in American literature and culture with particular emphasis on literature of the nineteenth century. Her first book, a significant revision of her dissertation written at Penn State, has just been published (August 2016) as Divided Sovereignties: Race, Nationhood, and Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century America by the University of Georgia Press.
Steven Thomas (PhD 2006) is currently Assistant Professor of English at Wagner College, where he moved from his tenure-line post at the College of St. Benedict/St. Johns University in Minnesota. Steve's dissertation was on the literature of British imperialism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but he has a variety of interests, including the work of Oromo immigrants to America from Ethiopia, the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, James Bond, and media studies.
Youngsuk Chae (PhD 2005) published her dissertation as her first book, Politicizing Asian American Literature. An Associate Professor of English, she is currently Assistant Chair of her department at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke.
Cedrick May (PhD 2003) also published his dissertation as his first book, titled Evangelism and Resistance in the Black Atlantic. Cedrick started his career at Auburn University, but he soon moved to the University of Texas at Arlington, his alma mater. He is now Associate Professor of Englist at Texas Christian University. Cedrick has recently gained national attention for his archival discovery of materials by Jupiter Hammon, an enslaved African, and he has given interviews with media outlets such as the New York Times and National Public Radio.
Elizabeth Archuleta (PhD 2002) resigned her tenureline assistant professorship at Arizona State University to develop a private business in diversity training. Since then she has come back to academia, where she works in the office of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education at the University of Utah.
Angela Vietto (PhD 2000), Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, published her dissertation as her first book, Women and Authorship in Revolutionary America. Angela compiled two books with me, the Dictionary of Literary Biography volume on American women prose writers to 1820 and our huge anthology, Early American Writings. Angela is currently teaching in three areas, rhetoric, women's studies, and early American studies.
Amy E. Winans (PhD 1998), a skilled early Americanist with an interest in African American studies, progressed to Associate Professor of English at Susquehanna University prior to her untimely death in March 2015.
Nicholas Rombes (PhD 1994), my first dissertation student at Penn State, wrote on Enlightenment culture for his thesis. He has since published books on the Ramones and in media studies. Nick is Professor and Chair of his department at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Areas of Specialization
- 18th-century British Literature
The history of print media and the history of reading, studies in the British empire, Enlightenment studies, and gender studies. Dissertations directed in the field include those written by Steven Thomas, Angela Vietto, and Nicholas Rombes.
- American Literature Before 1900
Colonial studies through the nineteenth century, with specialties in early African American, Native American, and women's studies, in addition to scholarship associated with environmental studies, the history of science, the history of the book, and early modern liberalism. Dissertations directed in these fields include those by Cedrick May, Amy E. Winans, Steven Thomas, and Rochelle Zuck. More recently, Mark Sturges's thesis, Dwelling on the Land, explored environmental writings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and examined the twin concerns of environmental conservation and the formulation of land policies. And Mathew C. RudeWalker's thesis, Where Our Dead Lie Buried, examined Native discourse and activism over language and land appropriation.
- African American Literature and Language
- Race and Ethnicity Studies
Early African American studies, Native American Studies, Asian American studies. Dissertations directed in these fields include those by Youngsuk Chae, Cedrick May, Elizabeth Archuleta, Amy E. Winans, and Rochelle Zuck. My current thesis writer, Mathew C. RudeWalker, is using his thesis, Where Our Dead Lie Buried, to explore Native resistance to colonizing efforts.
- Book History and Textual Studies
Winner of the 2012 William L. Mitchell prize awarded by the Bibliographical Society of America every other year for the best publication in British periodicals. Work in the field includes studies of manuscript culture and scribal publication along with studies of print media. Dissertations directed in this area include those by Amy E. Winans and Steven Thomas.