In the late nineteenth century the American human landscape radically transformed: immigrants arrived from Europe and Asia in numbers never before experienced, freedmen and freedwomen moved north hoping for new opportunities, and farmers and country folk moved to industrialized cities. This demographic and geographic restructuring forced many people to come to terms with the question–how do we live/work/thrive with people who are different from us? The exploration of this question in literature is at the heart of my scholarship.
The bulk of my research focuses on Progressive Era American literature and culture (1880-1930), in particular texts that examine embodied difference, like differences in gender, race, and able-bodiedness. This historical shift in population coinsides with the rise of sciences which would supposedly explain and control the national body. Scientific (or pseudoscientific) endeavors like public health, sociology, and eugenics easily became the stuff of utopian novels and horror stories.
I have done work on the relationship between motherhood, charity and disability in literature about American social settlements. Currently, I am completing an article about the neighborhood characters in Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s collection of short stories The Annals of ‘Steenth Street (1900-10). The neighborhood characters, as well as the settlement director, exhibit agency when interacting with philanthropists and government institutions intent on dominating them. Such depictions are unusually positive in reform literature of the time. In most settlement stories the locals end up deformed by charitable forces.
In October I will deliver a conference paper about Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s a/k/a Francis Stevens use of microscopes and germ theory to create xenophobic dread in her dark fantasy stories from the 1920s.
I am working on a article about Ursula K. Le Guin’s physcially marked or disfigured characters in The Earthsea Trilogy.
I have a patient side project about statements made by settlement directors in newspapers and magazines about disabled babies who died by neglect or euthanasia. In November 1915, this practice made front page news when Dr. Harry Haiselden advised Anna and Allen Bollinger to let their newborn son die by withholding medical treatment. Over the next year several more infants were allowed to die, or were ushered to their deaths by doctors and parents in the name of eugenics. Settlement directors such as Jane Addams of Hull House and Lillian Wald of the Henry Street Settlement became high-profile participants in the debates about the proper treatment for disabled children.
My research areas include: Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century American Literature, Twentieth Century American Literature, Disability Studies, Gender Studies, American Progressivism, Urbanism and the History of the American City, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature.