Current Junior Faculty Fellows
Assistant Professor of Archaeology
Religion and Urbanization in Ancient Central Mexico.
Five centuries ago Hernán Cortes and the conquistadors encountered teeming Aztec cities that served as the centers of ritual spectacles for a religious system that to Spanish eyes was simultaneously baffling, terrifying, and remarkable. Yet it was over a millennium before the Aztecs that central Mexico became one of the most urbanized places in the world, as it continues to be today. While the relationship between religion and urbanism during the Aztec period has been studied at length, this initial phase of urbanization and the crystallization of religious traditions of the later Formative period (ca. 600 BCE – 100 CE) remains poorly understood. The aim of my project is to elucidate the intersection of religion and urbanization in early central Mexico by combining elements of my own archaeological investigations at urban and rural sites of the period with a synthetic overview of the increased settlement nucleation and religious formalization that culminated in Classic period (ca. 100 – 600 CE) cities such as Teotihuacan, the largest city in the Americas in its day, and continued through the Spanish conquest.
Archaeological investigations of ancient urbanism strive to balance consideration of variables such as environment, population, politics, and architectural grammar in developing empirical urban theory for prehistoric contexts. In the absence of texts, however, many studies of prehistoric periods tend to undervalue the generative role of religion in shaping the world’s first cities, both in terms of their built environments and the social accommodations necessary for increasingly urbanized landscapes. By moving judiciously between sixteenth century textual sources and the prehistoric archaeological record I hope to provide a more comprehensive perspective on urbanization and religious formalization in central Mexico from the vantage point of early urban or proto-urban centers as well as more peripheral and rural areas.
Assistant Professor of History
Patron Saint and Prophet: Jan Hus in the Bohemian and German Reformations
On July 6, 1415 the Bohemian preacher and religious reformer Jan Hus was burned at the stake on the orders of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Hus had been condemned as a heretic by the ecumenical Council of Constance, accused of promulgating false beliefs about the transubstantiation of the Eucharist and attacking the ecclesiastical hierarchy for its moral shortcomings. His execution therefore reflected the definitive judgment of both the highest secular and spiritual authorities of the early fifteenth century, whose cooperation in this matter sought to eliminate the growth of a deviant religious movement based in Prague. Such coordinated actions between the Church and state had proven to be effective in the past, and both Sigismund and the council fathers seemed certain that it would do so again. And yet, Hus’s condemnation as a de jure heretic in Constance did not end the reform movement that he had led during the previous decade. Rather, that movement transformed Hus into a de facto saint, interpreting his execution as an act of diabolical injustice that legitimized, and even demanded, the establishment of an alternate church order that would oppose the persecution of God’s people on earth.
“Patron Saint and Prophet” is an analysis of that process of transformation and its outcomes. It tracks the development of Hus’s cult in fifteenth-century Bohemia and among the nascent Lutheran church in the following century, in order to understand how the commemoration of this heretical saint served to legitimize the establishment of churches hostile to the papacy in Rome. The proliferation of sermons, liturgical texts, popular songs, pamphlets, plays, history books, and visual art celebrating Hus’s life and death in the 150 years after his execution is striking, and bears eloquent witness to his continued importance among early modern oppositional religious movements within Christianity.At the core of this project, then, is an attempt to understand how the reinterpretation of the past served as a mandate for religious revolution in the present during the era of the European reformations. “Patron Saint and Prophet” is also a study of how the leaders of those reformations disseminated their new understanding of history, and how the media they employed shaped the specific messages they sought to convey, in order to justify their attempts at recreating the religious world of early modern Europe.
Assistant Professor of English
Against Self-Reliance: The Arts of Dependence in the Early United States
Since the end of the eighteenth century, the dominant narrative of American cultural history has been organized around the principle of sui generis exceptionality. Summed up in Thomas Paine’s celebration of American colonial rebellion as the “birthday of a new world” and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s rhapsodies about “the new man, this American,” the principle of exceptionalism informs both contemporary Whig visions of consensual government and later Emersonian homologies of “self-reliance” and romantic artistry. Such claims about national and personal independence have in turn produced a tradition of scholarship in which American uniqueness and liberal individualism emerge together as the necessary conditions of early Republican culture. Against Self-Reliance revises significantly this historiographical and literary-critical tradition: treating a wide variety of literary texts (from novels and poems to eulogies, political documents, and schoolbooks) and material objects (coins, embroidered samplers, astronomical models) from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, I show how various sorts of copying were considered essential to imagining, expressing, and integrating self and polity, to building a life and a country instead of tearing it down. Against the ideology of self-reliance, I argue for an early U.S. that values relational action over fictions of universal entrepreneurship, humility and humanity over a sense of divine favor, and that imagines individuality not as an oppositional or isolated state but as a function of community.
Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture
The Art of Contact; Comparative Approaches to the Eastern Mediterranean
The responses of ancient peoples to interaction can produce valuable historical insights – if we discern them accurately. Interaction might leave a mark or pass with little trace, and we infer accordingly a motivation or failure to share, adapt, or compete. One way to measure and characterize such reactions is through the material record of daily lives. The Art of Contact: Comparative Approaches to the Eastern Mediterranean of the First Millennium B.C.E. explores the relationships expressed in the material culture of Greeks and Phoenicians. The study provides two kinds of case studies. In each chapter, specific models drawn from art history, anthropology, and sociology are explored through specific examples of Greek and Phoenician material culture, including what we might consider “fine art” (marble sculpture), “craft” (roof tiles), and the material that falls somewhere in between (coins, Athenian painted vases). Through these case studies I investigate the Classical tradition; the impact of the “non-western” world on western visual conventions; how we characterize the art of contact as borrowing, stealing, influencing, or appropriating; and how contact increases or decreases (visual) expressions of sameness and difference. I argue against iconography and style as straightforward evidence of acculturation and show how monolithic theories of cultural connectivity have placed undue emphasis on originality in ancient art. The study weighs the continuing need for connoisseurship against the value of open-ended inquiry and promotes the use of context-specific interpretive models.
Assistant Professor of English
Romanticism and Interiority: Poetry, Narrative, Philosophy
Romanticism and Interiority: Poetry, Narrative, Philosophy is a book-length interdisciplinary study that seeks to reorient historical debates about conceptions of the subject in Romantic-era writing and thought, and it also seeks to reinvigorate scholarship at the intersection of literature and philosophy on the difficult category of selfhood. The study is an exploration of a new picture of the self that emerges around 1800 and comes to inflect lyric poetry, narrative poetry, novels, philosophy, and aesthetic theory in the Romantic period. In thinking and extending across these genres and disciplines, my study captures the historical development of a new and far-reaching imaginary about human subjectivity. This emergent picture of the self, what I call “interiority,” structures the Romantics’ aesthetic, cognitive, affective, ethical, and everyday experience. Romanticism and Interiority, then, argues that the questions that attend thinking about Romanticism, language, and inner life—far from being ideological, naive, or outmoded—are rich and undeveloped.
The central claim of my project is that Romantic selves’ experiences in the world—experiences with beauty, with others, with material objects—take a characteristic form: rather than understanding itself to live in a world, the Romantic self perpetually looks out at a world, as if cocooned or as if from behind a self, or as though the subject lacked possible or tangible contact with the world out there. The term “interiority” captures this structure of experience throughout my study. I contend that a reorganization of the coordinates according to which scholarship frames the Romantic understanding of the self necessitates a new picture of language, one accommodating enough to contain a worldview in which language does reflect, reveal, and give voice to human identity—though always refractively, insecurely, and incompletely.
Assistant Professor of English
The Aesthetics of Provinciality: London and the Making of Irish, Scottish, and American Literature
London was the place to sell books. In the early nineteenth century, literary careers were made or broken in this great metropolis, whose marketplace served an English reading public no elite author could ignore. Addressing that public was a challenge for those outside England who wished to participate in the English-language literary tradition. Many authors from Ireland, Scotland, and the United States met that challenge, including Maria Edgeworth, Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper. The Aesthetics of Provinciality argues that their responses to England’s cultural power played a significant role in the history of aesthetics. Responses to England veered between accommodation and defiance, two opposing stances that have different implications for that history. Some Irish, Scottish, and American authors embraced English readers and downplayed their outsider status in a literary field they worked to define through friendship and commonalty, thus conceiving of literary exchange as an idealized practice that operates outside a contentious political world. I argue that such idealization contributed to the emergence of the distinctively modern notion that literature itself inhabits an autonomous sphere of culture. Some Irish, Scottish, and American authors, in contrast, responded to England by highlighting difference and celebrating their distinctive national identities. Such celebration, which sought to defy England, contributed to the emergence of cultural nationalism, the idea that literary expression reveals deep and essential truths about an author’s native land. These two ideologies – that literature transcends nationality and indelibly expresses it – lie at the heart of a paradox within Anglo-American aesthetic theory. That paradox, still powerful today, was animated by the success of Irish, Scottish, and American authors who triumphed in the London book trade.
Situated at the intersection of Atlantic studies and the history of the book, The Aesthetics of Provinciality shows that works of literature cannot be separated from the material and commercial circumstances of their production and reception, and that the English-language book trade was rarely, if ever, confined within national boundaries. It is the first account of this period to consider both sides of the Atlantic in an integrated story of the book trade’s relationship to literary expression.