SEA Scholar of the Month for February 2018: Christopher Trigg
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
By the long way round! My BA was in medieval Celtic studies, and my original plan for my PhD was to work on 16th-century English literature. Reading Walden during my PhD coursework led me to American literature, and then encountering John Cotton and Cotton Mather’s writings drew me, finally, into the colonial period. I was very lucky to be at the University of Toronto and so able to ask Paul Downes to be my supervisor. Paul’s own work showed me how to write about early American subjects while remaining relevant to contemporary politics.
Who is your favorite early America writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I’ve worked on Cotton Mather a lot, but at the risk of being disloyal to him, I’d have to say Roger Williams. His blend of erudition, humanity, and stubborn conviction immediately appealed to me when I first read him. I am skeptical, though, of the modern tendency to turn him into a paragon of multiculturalism. His willingness to live beside people of different faiths was predicted on his conviction that the millennium was drawing near, so his toleration was always merely temporary. I’m interested in the ways in which the West’s acceptance of immigrants of other religions and cultures is often still limited in temporal scope today.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a book on beliefs about resurrection in colonial British North America. There’s a lot of excellent scholarship on Protestant millennialism, but it tends to center around differing interpretations of eschatological prophecies about the timing of the Second Coming. I’m focusing instead on the resurrection of the dead as it provides a great focus point for trying to understand what people thought life after death would actually be like. Resurrection theology also tells us a lot about the intersection of science and politics in the early-modern era—what were the perceived capabilities and limitations of humanity, individually and collectively, in this world and the next?
I’m also revising an article on military drones and early-modern debates about the sanctity of political power, which should be out later this year.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
On the EAL front, I’ve just finished reading Kristina Bross’s Future Histories, which brilliantly delineates the relationship between millennialism and globalization in the seventeenth century. I particularly like the way in which the chapters end with codas that chart her archival route to the texts in question. I’m striving to be as rigorous with the eighteenth-century material I’m working with. On a general note, I recently read Laxness’s Independent People, a painstaking recreation of the working lives, political crises, and folkloric beliefs of Icelandic sheep-farmers in the first half of the twentieth century, which is just as much fun as it sounds! It’s inspired me to visit Iceland this summer, so I’m now moving on to the Sagas.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
I don’t think I can possibly pick just one! Michelle Burnham, Reiner Smolinski, Sarah Rivett, and Jared Hickman have all inspired me with their work. I would also single out Jonathan Beecher Field who is not only a wonderful scholar and writer but has also been particularly generous and welcoming to me and many other younger faculty and grad students at SEA conferences.
Christopher Trigg is Assistant Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.