Joseph Rezek

Associate Professor of English Director, American and New England Studies Program

  • Title Associate Professor of English
    Director, American and New England Studies Program
  • Office 443
  • Education BA, Columbia University
    PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

For CV click here

I specialize in early and nineteenth-century American literature, the history of the book, early Black Atlantic literature, transatlantic studies, Romanticism, and the history of race and racism. In my scholarship, I tell new stories about the relationship between the technology of print and the literature, history, and culture of the eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Anglophone world.

My current book project, The Racialization of Print, provides a new genealogy of the distinctively modern idea that a printed book can index the nature of a “race.” What can a book reveal about the racial group to which its author belongs? What historical conditions are necessary for such a question even to make sense, and how did such conditions arise? Beginning in the sixteenth century, with the spread of printing in Europe and the emergence of modern racial categories, and ending in the mid-nineteenth century, with the industrialization of print and the codification of scientific racism, I argue that it was only after the Age of Revolution that readers came to believe a printed book provides a special kind of racial knowledge. In the nineteenth century, this indexical logic was strategically embraced by many Black and Native American writers who published texts explicitly to forward the cause of racial justice. My project begins with several case studies in the early modern period – from John Smith to Mary Rowlandson to Phillis Wheatley – in order to locate the origins of this logic in the intertwined colonial histories of print, racism, gender, and aesthetics. It ends by considering nineteenth-century writers like Baron de Vastey, William Apess, and Frederick Douglass, to explore the effects that print’s racialization had on writers of color, and especially their relationship to readers. I have sketched out the general argument for the book in a recent essay.

My first book, London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800-1850 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), considered Romantic-era authors from Ireland, Scotland, and the United States, who sought the prestige and exposure that only publishers in London could provide. Through an accounting of the formal, textual, and material impact of London, I marked the effects of provinciality on the fiction of authors like Maria Edgeworth, Walter Scott, and Washington Irving, and argued that those effects helped shape the Romantic-era ideology that literature operates according to rules and values only specialized practitioners can determine and fulfill.

For more about my scholarship, see my webpage on academia.edu.

As a teacher in English and American Studies, I specialize in theories of modernity and the Atlantic world, the history of the novel, and the history of print in American culture. I am Co-Chair of the American Literature and Culture Seminar at the Mahindra Center at Harvard University, which focuses on American literature from all periods and draws together scholars from around Boston area. I am also Associate Editor of Studies in Romanticism, which has been published at Boston University since 1961.

 

Selected Publications

    Work in Progress

    • “Early Black Evangelical Writing and the Radical Limitations of Print.” For African American Literature in Transition, 1750-1800, ed. Rhondda Thomas. Cambridge University Press. Projected for 2022.
    • “Early African American Literature and the British Empire.” For African American Literature in Transition, 1800-1830, ed. Jasmine Nichole Cobb. Cambridge University Press. Projected for 2021.

    Honors, Grants, and Awards

    • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society (one semester). Spring 2020.
    • National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia (one semester). Fall 2016.
    • Huntington Library Travel Grant to the United Kingdom. 2016.
    • Reese Fellowship in American Bibliography, Library Company of Philadelphia (one month).  2016
    • Short-Term Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society.  2016
    • Junior Faculty Fellow, Boston University Center for the Humanities (2013-4)
    • Newberry Library Short-Term Research Fellowship (2012)
    • The Katharine Pantzer Fellowship in the British Book Trades, Bibliographical Society of America (2012)
    • The Richard Beale Davis Prize, for the best article published in Early American Literature (2009-2010)
    • Barra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies
    • Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr., Research Grant from the Keats-Shelley Association of America
    • Mayers Fellowship, Huntington Library
    • Albert M. Greenfield Dissertation Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia
    • Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award, North American Society for the Study of Romanticism

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