I am an associate professor in the English Department at Temple University, 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. I am also interested in discussions about the state of the academy and the value of the humanities, organizing academic labor (I serve as President of TAUP, the labor union representing 3100 faculty, librarians, and academic professionals at Temple), community-based learning, and the literature of Philadelphia. I teach courses ranging from the introduction to the English major to surveys of British literature to more advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in the Long Eighteenth Century.
I am currently editing Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd (1725; 1729) as part of the Collected Works of Allan Ramsay, which will be published by Edinburgh University Press and which has received a grant of 1 million l. from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Gentle Shepherd is Ramsay’s best-known work; it went through over 100 printings prior to the 18th century and various versions were staged frequently throughout the UK. Ramsay himself is a central figure in laying down the conceptual and institutional ground-work of the Scottish Enlightenment. My current understanding of Ramsay’s view of pastoral and his remediation of proverbs and other traditional genres can be found in an essay published in 2018 in The Scottish Literary Review, “‘Hodden-Gray’:Pastoral, Enlightenment Re-Mediation, and The Proverbial Allan Ramsay.”
I am also in the early stages of putting together a Digital Humanities site on The Beggar’s Opera (1728) by John Gay, an even bigger hit in British eighteenth-century theater and one of the most influential texts in British literature, sparking adaptations from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928) to Opera Wonyosi by the Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka (1977) to Stephen Jeffreys’ The Convict’s Opera (2008). At the core of the site will be a scholarly edition of The Beggar’s Opera in TEI-XML and MEI-XML that will be enriched by audio and video clips of various performances, a glossary, and contextualizing essays on topics ranging from political satire in the 1720s to ballads and ballad collection in the era. There will also be a data-driven project mapping editions and performances over space and time, which inquires into the relationship between the stage and the page. The site aims to be a proof-of-concept for others interested in bringing musical theater into a digital environment. My collaborators and I hope to have a pilot up in 2019.
When I have time, I am also at work on 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 work of Adam Smith and then a trio of Scottish writers in the next generation–Robert Burns, Joanna Baillie, and Walter Scott, who reflect on the emergence in the Scottish Enlightenment of three ways of talking about value: political economy, aesthetics and belles lettres, and moral philosophy. Together, they offer a pluralistic way of valuing not only persons and objects but also narrative itself, including a reflexive turn toward narratives of education that underscore the value 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 latter half of the book is a series of case studies of 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, especially medical school; institutes and think-tanks seeking to influence humanities curricula; branches of US, UK, and Australian universities recently established in China and elsewhere; and experiments by universities in administering public high schools.
Many of my scholarly interests coalesced in Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from The Restoration to the New Criticism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 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 the overpowering of readerly agency. 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.
Since the publication of my book, I have continued to work on the relationship between elite literature and popular song during the Long Eighteenth Century, contributing to The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Romanticism (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800 (Ashgate, 2010), among other texts.
A pre-history of sorts to the history of value I attempt to narrate in my current book project can be found in an article recently published in The Scottish Literary Review, Spring/Summer 2012 “Second-Sighted Scot: Allan Ramsay and the South Sea Bubble.”
I have also built on prior work on Shakespeare and popular song as a contributor to two volumes, one in The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2013) .