Miles Orvell is Professor of English and American studies, with a broad interest in modern American culture. Orvell's first book, a study of Flannery O'Connor, was reprinted as Flannery O'Connor: An Introduction (University Press of Mississippi, 1991), and he has written essays more recently on Willa Cather, William Faulkner, and Theodore Dreiser. Signaling his interest in literature in relation to broader cultural issues, Orvell published The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (University of North Carolina Press), which dealt with literature, photography, and material culture, and was co-winner in 1990 of the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Publication Prize.
One of Orvell's main areas of interest is visual culture and its relationship to
literature, and in 1995 he published his essays in After the Machine: Visual Arts
and the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries (Mississippi, 1995). More recently, he has
edited a collection of FSA photographer John Vachon's work (John Vachon’s America:
Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II, 2003); and he has
written a history of photography in the United States for the Oxford History of Art
Series (American Photography, 2003).
In the last five years, Orvell has focused his research on the cultural meaning of
place, and he has co-edited a collection of essays, Public Space and the Ideology
of Place in American Culture (Rodopi, 2009). He is an editor of the University of
Pennsylvania Press series, Architecture, Technology, Culture, and is co-editing
a volume in the series, Thinking Architecture, Technology, Culture, based on a
conference he helped organize in Munich.
His most recent book is The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American
Memory, Space, and Community (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), which
recovers the complex and contradictory cultural meanings of the small town at the
same time that it problematizes the icon of Main Street. He is presently working
on a book on photography, ruins, and contemporary culture, called “The Course of
Empire: American Photography and the Destructive Sublime.”
Orvell’s essays and reviews on literature, photography, documentary film,
technology and the arts, have appeared in Afterimage, American Art, History
of Photography, Film Quarterly, American Literary History, Prospects, Tikkun,
Winterthur Portfolio and many other journals.
Orvell has presented papers and lectured widely at conferences and universities in
the U.S. and Europe and was a Fulbright Professor of American Studies in Denmark
(1988). He has directed several N.E.H. Summer Seminars for School Teachers—on
Documentary Expression in the Thirties and on Ethnic Autobiography.
Active in the American Studies Association, Orvell served as Editor in Chief of the
Encyclopedia of American Studies Online, published by Johns Hopkins University
Press, from 2004 to 2011. In 2009, he received the Bode-Pearson Prize for lifetime
achievement, awarded by the American Studies Association, and in 2010 received
one of the University’s “Great Teacher” awards.