Welcome to my scholar page at Harvard University, where I currently teach in the History and Literature program. I received my doctorate in American Studies from Boston University and previously received a bachelor’s in English from Hamilton College and a master’s in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale. At BU, Yale, and now Harvard, I have taught courses in several disciplines, including American literature and culture, theatre history, and early silent film.
As a scholar and a teacher, I am driven by two fundamental but interrelated questions: 1.) What do literary works, theatrical plays, and films tell us about the historical moment in which they were produced?; and 2.) how do these same artifacts, in turn, create or shape new historical events?
My students and I work together to answer these questions and more complex ones that arise from our class discussions. In the smaller seminars and tutorials here at Harvard, we all bring ideas to the table about sources that might work together. Whether reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” against contemporaneous reports of narcotic use, Richard Wright’s Native Son beside primary accounts of the wartime urban economy, or Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent through the lenses of LGBTQ histories and federal PSA ads, we discover compelling entryways into texts via multiple contexts.
As a researcher, I ask the same questions when investigating texts and materials within the historical archive. Currently, I’m revising my recently completed dissertation into a book manuscript entitled Staged Readings: Sensationalism and Class in Popular American Literature and Theatre, 1835-1875. Examining the overlaps between the mid-nineteenth-century worlds of print and popular theatre, I attempt to portray how working- and middle-class citizens shifted between roles as literary consumers and theatrical audiences. The central claim of Staged Readings is that cultural arbiters from the print world (including activist authors and advice-text writers) and from the public amusement realm (entrepreneurial theatre producers and melodrama playwrights) poached each other’s work in order to capitalize on preexisting consumer communities. By cultivating socially homogenous audiences, these arbiters became vital contributors to the consolidation of class-based identities in nineteenth-century America.
Within this study, I read works of sensation fiction (George Lippard’s The Quaker City, Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask; or A Woman’s Power) and popular melodramas (The Drunkard, Undine; or, the Spirit of the Waters) against playbills, diary entries, parlor theatre manuals, etchings of tableaux vivants, and violent story papers. With a special focus on publishing and reception histories, I seek to expand our understanding of nineteenth-century social class and consumer culture. An article examining antebellum temperance drama (and excerpted from Staged Readings) appears in the June 2014 edition of The New England Quarterly.