I am an associate professor, specializing in English and Scottish literature during what scholars now refer to as the Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1832), which includes the Restoration, the eighteenth century, and the Romantic era. Many of my scholarly interests coalesce in Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from The Restoration to the New Criticism (Penn, 2007). Focusing on the motives behind and the effects of the sustained interest by elite British writers in popular songs, it revises historicist accounts of the establishment of what we know now as the canon of English literature. While ballads allow elite authors to draw tendentious distinctions between high and low and idealize both the folk and the literary, they also use ballads to imagine a common world in opposition to modes of literary commodification and readerly domination. Among the figures I consider and continue to be interested in are better-known authors such as John Gay, Joseph Addison, William Wordsworth, William Blake, and Felicia Hemans, as well as lesser-known figures like Thomas D'Urfey, Allan Ramsay, eighteenth-century Shakespeare scholars and progressive educational theorists in the early twentieth century. Tracing the appropriation of ballads by elite authors puts me into touch with other topics that interest me, including nationalism, lyric, the history of English as a discipline, and the relationship between literary form and history.
I continue to work on the relationship between elite literature and popular song during the Long Eighteenth Century, contributing to The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Romanticism and Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Ashgate, 2010), among other texts. I am also building on prior work on Shakespeare and popular song as a contributor to The Cambridge World Shakespeare Enyclopedia and for a collection to be published by Oxford.
I am in the early stages of a book with the working title, Time for the Humanities: Competing Narratives of Value from the Scottish Enlightenment to the 21st Century Academy. It begins with the emergence in the Scottish Enlightenment of three ways of talking about value: political economy, aesthetics and bel les lettres, and moral philosophy. Together, they offer a pluralistic way of valuing not only persons and objects but also narratives. This includes a reflexive turn toward narratives of education that underscore the usefulness of studying the humanities. The latter half of the book tracks the fission of these ways of valuing into the disciplines of the modern university, disciplines that tend more toward competition and exclusion rather than mutual illumination. This fission in narratives of value shapes the public's understanding and misunderstanding of those of us who work in the humanities, who have unfortunately assisted in our isolation from and eclipse by disciplines typically accorded more explanatory power, such as economics. To make concrete these mutual communications and miscommunications, the book will consider practices and institutions in which university departments play only a partial role and yet offer opportunities for rethinking the value of the humanities: our students' pre-professional desires as revealed in personal statements for graduate study; institutes and think-tanks seeking to influence curricula; branches of US universities recently established in China and elsewhere; and experiments by universities in administering public high schools.