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I focus on nineteenth-century literature, especially the novel, poetry, and writings about the mind from a range of genres. All of my work asks how literature either represents or challenges the constraints of everyday perception. My first book, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. The Starry Sky Within connected literary experiments in point of view with nineteenth-century astronomy. Victorian astronomy depicted a complex universe in constant motion, with no point of rest. The writers I treated set radically different perceptions of a single thing (a person, a planet, an event) next to each other by moving the reader through space at great speeds. I focused on four writers who were fascinated by astronomy: Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Thomas De Quincey, and Alfred Tennyson. Astronomers and novelists were equally obsessed with the problem of where we view things from. How, they wondered, can we picture the universe as a whole while being stuck on the surface of the earth?
I’m drawn to huge things and tiny things. My second book project, Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination, explores how literary and scientific writers imagined the inner lives of tiny creatures (such as ants, snails, and worms). Tiny Creatures zeroes in on moments when writers contemplate the world as it is encountered by beings radically different from ourselves. When we imagine the sensory experience of a worm, a snail, or a fictional two-dimensional being, the assumptions we make from a human-centered system break down—and the imagination opens up. In the second half of the nineteenth century many writers were preoccupied with the mystery of how matter (a human baby, an egg, the tip of a vine) could lose and acquire sentience.
I am deeply committed to bridging boundaries between academic disciplines. To that end, the courses I teach draw from literature, history of science, and philosophy. These include an interdisciplinary course for honors college sophomores on “Climate Change,” “Children’s Literature: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Imaginary Spaces,” “The Boundaries of Life,” “Innovation, Culture, and Society,” “Time, Literature, and Narrative 1800-1930,” and “Animals and Literature 1800-2000.” Before coming to BU, I spent three years at Harvard’s Society of Fellows. I organize an annual panel on new work in Victorian Studies, and co-organized a conference on Creativity Across the Disciplines at the Radcliffe Institute.
- In Progress: Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination (monograph)
- The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature (monograph) (Oxford University Press, 2014)
Journal Articles and Chapters
- “Sentience.” Victorian Literature and Culture. Special issue on “Keywords.” 46.3-4 (2018): 861-865. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1060150318001043
- “Tallow Candles and Animal Residue in Dickens.” Special Issue on “Fire” in 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. Edited by Anne Sullivan and Kate Flint. Peer reviewed. 2017. https://19.bbk.ac.uk/articles/10.16995/ntn.794/
- “Charles Darwin’s Final Book: The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, 1881.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Ninteenth-Century History. Peer reviewed. http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=anna-henchman-charles-darwins-final-book-on-earthworms-1881. 2017.
- “Fragments out of Place: Body Parts and the Logic of Nonsense in Edward Lear.” In Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry, edited by James Williams and Matthew Bevis. 2016.
- “Technology and Time in Victorian Literature.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature, edited by Dino Franco Felluga, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Linda K. Hughes. Peer reviewed. 2015.
- “Edward Lear Dismembered: Word Fragments and Body Parts.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal 35.5 (2013): 479-87.
- “Outer Space: Physical Science.” In The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, edited by Matthew Bevis, 2013.
- “The Telescope as Prosthesis.” Victorian Review. Special Issue on Disability, edited by Jennifer Esmail and Christopher Keep. 35.2 (Fall 2009): 27-32.
- “Hardy’s Stargazers and the Astronomy of Other Minds.” Victorian Studies 51.1 (2008): 37-64.
- “Hardy’s Cliffhanger and Narrative Time.” English Language Notes. Special Issue on Time and the Arts, edited by Sue Zemka. 46.1 (Spring/Summer 2008): 127-35.
- “‘The Globe we Groan in’: Astronomical Distance and Stellar Decay in In Memoriam.” Victorian Poetry. Special Issue on Science and Victorian Poetry, edited by Sally Shuttleworth and Gowan Dawson. 41.1 (Spring 2003): 29-45.
- American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. “Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination.” (2019-2020)
- BU Undergraduate Academic Advising Award. (2019)
- Outstanding Mentor Award, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (2017)
- Junior Faculty Fellow, Boston University Center for the Humanities (2012-3)
- John Clive Teaching Prize (2007)
- Harvard Society of Fellows Junior Fellowship (2004–7)
- Bowdoin Prize (2004)
- Walter L. Arnstein Prize (2004)
- Certificates of Distinction in Teaching (2001, 2002, 2006)
- Packard Fellowship (2002)
- Merit Fellowship (2001)
- Arthur Lehman Scholarship (2001)
- Ralph Paine Memorial Prize (1993)
- Edward Thompkins McLaughlin Scholarship (1992)
Other Professional Activities
- Graduate Panel in Victorian Studies Founder and Organizer, Victorian Literature and Culture Seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard
- Co-Organizer and Workshop Leader for “Breakthroughs: Creativity Across the Disciplines” and “The Scientist Within: Scientific Biography and The Creative Moment” at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
- Co-chair, Cognitive Theory and the Arts Seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard (2007-15)
- Program Committee member and Site Chair for Northeast Victorian Studies Association.