Literary History

My research generally revolves around questions of literary history, book history, and the history of reading, and my scholarship has begun to take larger-scale directions in these areas. My main publication in this regard is:

Phillips, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the American Renaissance (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018).

Organized in three main sections, this book brings together original essays by eminent scholars at all professional levels to present the origins and broad context of the American Renaissance (including the genealogy of the term, which F. O. Matthiessen coined in 1941), central genres and authorial practices as exemplified by key authors, and the core literary and cultural issues facing writers of the antebellum United States.

Melville, Stowe, Whitman, and Douglass are treated here alongside such understudied figures as Frances Harper, Henry W. Longfellow, Frances Sargent Osgood, and George Copway in a new look at this watershed moment in American literary history, one that has been contested for decades yet remains remarkably tenacious.

In addition to the introduction to the volume, titled “The Very Idea of an American Renaissance,” I contributed an essay on the American Renaissance canon’s presence (and absence) in the 1850s records of the Easton, Pa. Library Company, as well as a coda on war and the American Renaissance, which considers the significance of the period’s being bracketed by the Mexican War (1846-1848) and the American Civil War (1861-1865).