Maurice S. Lee


Chair and Professor, Department of English

BA, Stanford University
PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

Room 414
For CV click here

Many of the books I love to study and teach come from nineteenth-century America. My work situates literature at the crossroads of intellectual and cultural history, while also projecting such histories forward to such twenty-first century topics as racial politics, information overload, and the relationship of science and aesthetics. My first book explores how writers engaged philosophical ideas when addressing the slavery crisis. My second examines how authors encountered changing theories of chance, not only in the domain of ideas (science, philosophy, theology), but also through developing social practices (such as gambling, insurance, warfare, and weather forecasting). I have edited a collection of essays on Frederick Douglass and am currently finishing a book on how the nineteenth-century information revolution shaped modern conceptions of literature, thereby conditioning current attitudes toward the digital humanities and assessment movement in education. Like my scholarship, my teaching asks how literature mediates ideas and experience, rational systems and everyday life. In addition to a range of survey, genre, and topic courses in nineteenth-century literature, I also teach African American literature, Asian American literature, and advanced seminars for graduate students. I have served as Chair of the English department since 2014 but am taking a hiatus in 2017-2018 while on fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Teaching and Research Interests
  • Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture
  • Print History, Information History, and the Digital Humanities
  • Literature and Science; Literature and Philosophy
  • African American and Asian American Literature
Selected Publications
  • Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Oxford University  Press, 2012)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • Slavery, Philosophy, and American Literature, 1830–1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • “Melville’s Philosophy of the History of Science: ‘The Apple-Tree Table,’” Melville’s Philosophies, ed. Branka Arsic and K.L. Evans (Palgrave, forthcoming 2017)
  • “Necessary Chances,” Amerikastudien/American Studies (forthcoming 2016)
  • “Afterword: Five Thoughts on the Canon,” J19 4:1 (2016), 125-30
  • “The End of the End of the Canon?’”, J19 4:1 (2016), 174-80
  • “Deserted Islands and Overwhelmed Readers,” ALH, 2014
  • Falsifiability, Confirmation Bias, and Textual Promiscuity,” J19, 2014
  • “Skepticism and The Confidence-Man,” The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville, 2013
  • “Poe by the Numbers: Odd Man Out?” Remapping Antebellum Culture, 2013
  • “Searching the Archives with Dickens and Hawthorne: Databases and Aesthetic Judgment after the New Historicism,” ELH,  2012
  • “Evidence, Coincidence, and Superabundant Information,” Victorian Studies (2011)
  • “Skepticism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Philosophy,” Oxford Handbook to Nineteenth-Century American Literature, 2011
  • “The 1850s: The First Renaissance of Black Letters,”Blackwell Companion to African-American Literature, 2010
  • “Probably Poe,” American Literature, 2009
  • “Dickinson’s Superb Surprise,” Raritan, 2008
  • “Melville, Douglass, the Civil War, Pragmatism,” Douglass/Melville: Essays in Relations, 2007
  • “Which World? Which Work? Which Melville?” Modern Intellectual History, 2007
  • “‘The Old and the New’: Double Consciousness and the Literature of Slavery,” ESQ, 2004
  • “Absolute Poe: His System of Transcendental Racism,” American Literature, 2003
  • “Writing Through the War: The Civil War Poetry of Melville and Dickinson,” PMLA, 2000
  • “Melville’s Subversive Political Philosophy: ‘Benito Cereno’ and the Fate of Speech,” American Literature, 2000
  • “Du Bois the Novelist: White Influence, Black Spirit, and The Quest of the Silver Fleece,” African American Review, 1999
Work in Progress
  • A book project titled, Overwhelming Words: Literature, Aesthetics, and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution
  • Essays toward an intellectual history of the black press
Fellowships and Awards
  • Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship, Harvard Univ. (2017-2018)
  • Henderson Senior Research Fellowship (BU Center for the Humanities, Spring 2014)
  • Hariri Institute Grant in the Digital Humanities (2013-2014)
  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title (for Uncertain Chances, 2012)
  • Neu Teaching Award (Boston University, College of Arts & Sciences, 2009)
  • Charles A. Ryskamp/ACLS Research Fellowship (2009)
  • NEH Research Fellowship (2007)
  • James Gargano Prize (Poe Studies Association, 2003)
  • NEH Summer Fellowship (2003)
  • Hennig Cohen Prize (Melville Society, 2001)