Assistant Professor of EnglishUniversity of Maryland, College Park
My research and teaching focus on early modern literature, media theory and music. I am currently writing a book about literature, song and mediation from Shakespeare and Sidney to Jonson and Milton.
The book traces the development of verse with a musical dimension in the poetic and theatrical cultures of the period, beginning with the renewed interest in musical humanism among Sidney and his peers, and continuing through Milton’s fascination with musical language and experience. Song was an essential part of the literary canon, and it circulated ubiquitously in written format. Yet it was also highly performative, inseparable from the rhythmic, vocal and instrumental conditions of its recital. As such, song brings out the extensive interaction between writing and sound in sixteenth- and seventeeth-century literary culture.
Drawing on media theory, I argue that song reveals a continual struggle to define literature, from Sidney's emphasis on the musical properties of writing in The Defence of Poesie to Milton's conception of the printed book as a profoundly performative medium in Areopagitica. I theorize literature as a process of mediation -- an intersection of technologies, performers, formats and authors in which writing was an important but by no means exclusive component.
I also have research interests in the history of the lyric, early Tudor culture, Renaissance pageants and entertainments, gender studies, the history of formalism, and the digital humanities. My work has been published in Shakespeare Quarterly, Studies in Philology and edited collections. Click here to view my publications and here for a list of presentations.
My research in media studies plays out in my teaching, where I ask students to draw connections between early modern literature and our own historical moment. My courses are grounded in close readings of literary texts, but I incorporate music, film and television into the classroom, and I use course blogs to ask how online interfaces relate to the inter-media literary environment of the early modern period, when the printed book remained a “new” medium.
The collection Gender and Song in Early Modern England is just out from Ashgate. Edited by Leslie Dunn and Katherine Larson, it features eleven essays about the gendered practices and spaces surrounding song. My contribution is an essay about female performers' participation in the profusion of lute songbooks between 1597 and 1622 (access it here). These "table books" including music and verse, by poets and composers including Thomas Campion and John Dowland, were designed so that performers could gather around an open copy (see an example). Marketed to be performed in domestic settings including women, books of ayres, as they were called, marked a new, dynamic site for female performers to shape poetic and musical culture.
In collaboration with Ellen Mackay, I have started a Tumblr site that draws attention to what is fragmented, ephemeral and lost in digital approaches to the early modern period. Digital tools tend to give an impression of completeness, promising a new horizon of quantification and preservation. We proceed from the idea that, if digitization is the tip of the iceberg, the ice melted long ago. The site is inspired by the Summer 2013 NEH Institute 'Early Modern Digital Agendas' at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Ellen and I have several posts up so far, most recently my reflection on the music of the child fairies who pinch Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the tendency for songs to vanish from early modern playtexts.
Lecture at the IRH, October 2014
On October 20, I gave a lecture at the Institute for Research in the Humanities here in Madison about my current book project, incorporating some of the material on singing boys and sexual abuse that I'm working on now. Presenting my work to scholars across a range of humanities disciplines (from anthropologists to philosophers) and hearing their responses was very helpful. Specialization in the academy can sometimes lead to a feeling of insularity, and it's a useful exercise to try to explain one's project to folks in different fields.
I am excited to have been awarded a Solmsen Fellowship for the academic year at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research in the Humanities. I will be in residence in Madison for the duration of the fellowship, participating in the intellectual life of the Institute and finishing my book about song and mediation in early modern England. With weekly seminars focused on fellows' projects and full institutional support, this is an ideal setting for research. I will be back at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2015.