How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I remember reading Wieland in college and being overwhelmed by its strangeness. I was just like – wait – did that person just spontaneously combust?! This started me thinking about the eighteenth century, the assumptions I had about the eighteenth century, and the strange, compelling, and disturbing things that were afoot in the period. In graduate school, I got increasingly interested in science studies and the history of science in the Atlantic world, and this interest really compelled me to engage more deeply with early American literature.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
I’m not very good at choosing favorites, of anything, but I very much like Leonora Sansay’s The Secret History. It’s strange in form and content, it teaches really well, it raises lots of questions about “the novel,” and it’s full of opportunities to think about violence, revolution, and the natural world.
What are you currently working on?
I’m in the last rush of completing my dissertation. My project is concerned with natural history, first-person prose, and personhood as a conceptual and political category. I write about people who claimed to be nonhumans, satires narrated by atoms and lice, accounts of furniture during fever epidemics, and the difficulty of describing overwhelming swarms of birds. I bring together this archive to produce a literary history of the disaggregated and fragmentary forms of personhood that persisted into the early national period, as well as the ways first-person prose must negotiate the parameters of normative human personhood. I’m interested in small moments that can do a lot of disruptive work, and the texts I write about provide a lot of those moments.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I’ve been reading Seaweed’s Chronicles: A World at Water’s Edge, which explores the ecological and commercial history of seaweed in the Gulf of Maine. I’m interested in thinking about overlapping arcs of life and liveliness, from both historical and theoretical perspectives, and I appreciate the way this book approaches those questions in a contemporary context. The text is attentive to complexity, but it’s also really accessible. I’ve never been to Maine, and I like learning this regional environmental history. I’m also reading Alexander G. Weheliye’s Habeas Viscus, Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think, and Margaret A. Hagerman’s White Kids.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
I admire and am inspired by so many people. Right now I’m feeling especially inspired by Greta LaFleur’s work, and I’m really looking forward to her book coming out this fall. Her scholarship is so theoretically rich and also so firmly historically grounded. I really I learn a lot from the ways she animates and analyzes her archive.
Julia Dauer is a PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison