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.
This year at the Shakespeare Association of America conference in Vancouver, BC, I co-led a seminar with Thomas Ward (Assistant Professor of English, US Naval Academy) focused on how various acts of "making" are represented in Shakespeare. An incredibly smart group of folks working on topics ranging from dance to mathematics to necromancy registered, and we ran a blog aimed at stimulating new, collaborative ideas for several months in advance of the conference. In Vancouver we had a lively discussion about issues including the semiotics of drama, the perceptual modes of playing, the relationship between page and stage, processes of authorial self-fashioning, and the material habits and conditions of playing and literary production. The group was especially interested in moments when diverse types of poiesis intersect, combining and hybridizing musical, gestural, verbal and other types of making: have a look at the seminar description and abstracts for further details.
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.