SEA Scholar of the Month, May 2022: Philip Gould
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I was lucky to stumble upon a class that Sargent Bush (who later became my mentor and advisor) taught in early American literature–my first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was revelatory. Who knew typology could be so interesting? His readings of Sarah Kemble Knight, Wheatley, the Puritan sermon–I was hooked.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
This is a difficult one. It seems to change, depending on what I’m researching or thinking about. My favorite to teach? Charlotte Temple still has a place in different kinds of courses I teach (like “America Dreaming” last winter where we read it along with Crane’s Maggie). Equiano, Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie. Others, I suppose.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a book on literary culture and the power of the US state in the Civil War. It places Lincoln back into literary history, I guess, in a more skeptical approach to civil liberties, treason and loyalty, and censorship and propaganda. But since a lot of great scholarship has focused on questions of the nation and national culture and identity, I wanted to refocus literary production–and literary form–on questions of the citizen’s new relation to the federal state.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
Is this a Covid question? In the Early Republic course I’m teaching with Seth Rockman (in History), we are reading Richard Allen and Absalom Jones on the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in the 1790s. It certainly resonates. Joan Didion’s essays are inspiring–and I’m not sure why!
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
In graduate school, reading Mitchell Breitwieser’s book on Franklin and Cotton Mather was an epiphany (and also humbling). David Shields, Sandra Gustafson. Scholarship that’s not just smart–clever–but built on real foundations.
Philip Gould is Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University.