Associate Professor of English at the University of Montevallo
Nineteenth Century American Literature | Visual Culture | Comics
I am an associate professor and the coordinator of the graduate program in English at the University of Montevallo. My research and teaching focuses on nineteenth century American literature, visual culture, and comics. I received my Ph.D. in English in 2011 from the University of Michigan and have held fellowships with the University of Cambridge and the National Endowment for the Humanities. My work has appeared in American Literature, Arizona Quarterly, PopMatters.com, and elsewhere.
My book project, Lost Literacies: Experiments in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. Comic Strip, is a study of U.S. comic strips from the period prior to the 1880s. Standard histories of the comic strip in the U.S. trace the genre’s beginnings to works such as Richard F. Outcault’s newspaper series The Yellow Kid in the 1880s.
My research reveals how this tradition extends at least as early as the 1830s. My work shows how artists in the U.S. experimented with an array of visual languages that do not fit neatly into our existing models for graphic narrative. We frequently see a record of visual literacies that fell by the wayside, and did not become widely accepted as conventional elements of graphic storytelling.
A section of this project was published in American Literature, under the title “Transatlantic Picture Stories" and received an honorable mention for the Norman Foerster award for outstanding article in American Literature in 2015.
The Pleasures of Conspiracy
I wrote my dissertation on conspiracy narratives in nineteenth century American literary and political culture. This study argues that the conspiracy narrative’s durability is inseparable from its association with popular entertainment. Parallel to the detective novel, sensationalist journalism, and the Barnumesque exhibition, writers aligned suspicions about terrorism, corruption, and even Shakespeare’s identity to an emerging aesthetic that catered to the widespread taste for detection and deception.
My writing on conspiracy narratives has appeared in journals including Studies in American Fiction, Arizona Quarterly, and Mark Twain Annual. As part of my research for this project, I held a fellowship at the University of Cambridge’s Center for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities where I collaborated with political scientists, historians and philosophers on “The Conspiracy and Democracy Project,” an initiative that explores conspiracy narratives across transnational contexts.
Hoaxes, Hucksters, and Artful Deceptions in American Culture
Playful acts of fraud and illusion have long been central to American literature and popular culture, as American audiences reveled in speculating about the bizarre and seemingly miraculous. This course charts these “arts of deception” from the early 19th century up to the present. The class explores how trickery is tightly intertwined with philosophy, racial and ethnic ideology, and distinctively modern forms of cognition.
Readings include journalistic and literary hoaxes such as Washington Irving’s (fake) History of New York and Edgar Alan Poe’s “Balloon Hoax, P.T. Barnum’s attractions, Henry Roltair’s visual illusions, Thomas Eakins' paintings, William Mumler’s Spirit Photography, George Plimpton's "Tibetan Fastball" Hoax, and modern magicians including James Randi and David Blaine.
Comics and Graphic Narratives
Graphic Narrative is a general term for comics, graphic novels, manga, hieroglyphs, sequential art, and visual poems. In recent years, cultural and literary critics have increasingly recognized that graphic narratives are more than just simple pictures or amusements; they are a sophisticated medium with their own elaborate language and conventions.
This course explores the history and theory of the exciting field of graphic narrative from the 18th century to the present. Primary texts include important historical works like Töpffer’s Monsieur Jabot, classic newspaper strips like McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, international comics such as Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet and Miyazaki’s Nausicaa,, superhero comics including Alphona & Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, graphic memoirs like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and webcomics like Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon.
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Mark Twain’s famous self-deprecating comments about Huckleberry Finn encapsulate both the persistent appeal and the challenge inherent in studying Twain’s writing. Twain is firmly enshrined in the pantheon of American literature; regarded as a profound innovator in American literary art; and counted among the nineteenth-century’s most significant thinkers on issues ranging from race to religion to imperialism. Despite all this, Twain himself would probably tell us we have too much time on our hands, that he was only joking, and that we shouldn’t take him so seriously.
But continue to read him we must. Thus, despite the better judgment of all involved, this class offers an in-depth exploration of Twain’s writings and biography. Students will undertake an in-depth study of Twain’s major works including Innocents Abroad, The Tragedy of Puddn’head Wilson, and The Diaries of Adam & Eve as well as lesser-known and unfinished fragments such as No. 44: The Mysterious Stranger, A Double Barreled Detective Story, and Tom Sawyer’s Conspiracy.