College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Research InterestsEarly American Literature & Book Studies
I teach literary and cultural history, with a courtesy appointment in the UI Center for the Book. Offering an MFA degree and a Graduate Certificate, the Center combines the study of book history with the production of book art. My particular research interest is in the history of readership, as reflected in my book The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). It was awarded Honorable Mention by the MLA for Best First Book in 2007. My articles have appeared in American Literary History, American Quarterly, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Early American Literature, and PMLA.
Supported by an NEH, I am working on a second book, The Novel and the Blank, an investigation of how the constraints of the print shop affected the literary culture and reading habits of colonial and early national America. From this project, an essay—“Blanks: Data, Method, and the British American Print Shop”—was published in the Spring 2017 issue of American Literary History. I have given invited talks at Northwestern, Harvard, Ben-Gurion University, Penn, Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion, Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, the Folger Library, Loyola University of Chicago, the American Antiquarian Society, the University of Mississippi, and Princeton’s Mellon Symposium on “Protestantism and the Materiality of Texts.” For the UI Press, I edit the monograph series Impressions: Studies in the Art, Culture, and Future of Books
The NEH has also supported an initiative I developed with co-principal investigator Elizabeth Yale (History/UICB): “Global Book Cultures and the Student Laboratory” will create undergraduate curricula in transnational book studies that feature hands-on making as part of their learning outcomes. Awarded $150,000 over three years (2022-2025), the project will bring the distinctive experience of the UI Center for the Book to undergraduates. In 2009 and 2010, I led the Mellon-funded summer seminar “Early American Literature and Material Texts,” a workshop for dissertating graduate students from across the country, held at the University of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Along with book studies and early American literature, current teaching and scholarly interests include editorial theory and literary meaning, the history of the public sphere, reader-oriented criticism, and gender studies. A longstanding interest in critical race analysis extends back to early publications in Cultural Studies on Black popular music from 1965-1990 and in Whiteness: A Critical Reader on race, basketball, and mainstream 1990s film, onward to current courses focusing on African-American media culture and on Poe and race.
For Public Books, I wrote this review of a cultural history of audiobooks, wherein I hold forth on sound, intimacy, and moms. By way of Pop Matters, here is an artifact from 2002 about my sometimes meh, sometimes swooning experience of the band Wilco. (And then the music business changed.) Using the Internet Archive, I link you here to a piece I wrote for Common-place, when the aesthetics of Common-place’s lay-out were, how do I say this, better. Op-eds on the current conditions of higher ed leadership in the state of Iowa can be found here and here. A great performance by the David Murray Octet is here.