PhD in American Literature

1. American literature thrives at every level of the faculty's activity: our PhD cohort is fed by the MPhil in American Literature, which consistently attracts an international group of students, particularly from the United States. External examiners regularly remark on the exceptional quality of work produced on the MPhil, and many MPhil students stay on for the PhD We also welcome PhD applicants with Master's Degrees from many other institutions.. The research community in Cambridge is also enhanced by the Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies, based at Selwyn College. American Literature is also usually the most popular undergraduate optional paper, and dozens of students write dissertations on American topics every year.

2. Faculty Members who act as PhD supervisors or advisors for American topics include

Dr Edward Allen, Dr Kasia Boddy, Prof Steve Connor, Dr Tamara Follini, Dr Michele Gemelos, Dr Fiona Green, Dr Alex Houen, Dr Michael Hrebeniak, Dr Robert Macfarlane, Dr Sarah Meer, Dr Rod Mengham, Dr Drew Milne, Dr Amy Morris, Dr James Riley, Dr Anne Stillman, Dr Trudi Tate

Faculty members' research interests span the period from the seventeenth century to the present, in poetry, prose and drama. Work in the faculty embraces a wide range of approaches – close-reading, cultural history, comparativist and theoretical approaches, among others. Several faculty members are also particularly interested in transatlantic cultural connections. Individual special interests include:
Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, the History and Idea of the Great American Novel, Short Stories, Sport and literature, Autobiography and Life Writing, the Culture of Modern Museums and Collecting, Henry James, Modernist Poetry and Periodical Culture, Susan Howe, Poetic Sequences, Literature and Political Violence, Poststructuralism, the American /Viet Nam War, nineteenth-century popular theatre, T. S. Eliot, Notebooks, Revisions and Drafting, Jack Kerouac, Frederick Douglass.

Two of the general editors of the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James are based in the faculty.

3. Activities
Activities involving graduates, postdoctoral research fellows and senior Faculty members include a fortnightly seminar in American literature in term-time, which combines internal and invited speakers, film-screenings, and reading group discussions. One highlight of the academic year is the annual American Literature symposium, a one-day event run by and for graduate students, as a testing ground and showcase for MPhil and PhD work in progress.

Students studying American topics also take advantage of the strength of American History in Cambridge, organising joint seminars, reading groups and film screenings. In 2005 Faculty members in History and English jointly organised the British Association of American Studies’ 50th Anniversary Conference: the opening session featured panels on topics ranging as widely as Gay Rodeo, James Baldwin in Turkey and Appalachian culture.

3. Current and Recent PhD students' topics include

  • Counterfeit Culture: Fraud and Forgery in the Postwar American Novel
  • On Complex Terms: James Among the Ethical Critics
  • Written War: Reportage and the Literary, 1861-66
  • Moonlighting in Manhattan: American Poets at Work 1855-1930
  • John Berryman and the Spiritual Politics of Cold War American Poetry
  • Mike Gold and Proletarian Literature
  • Britain on the Popular Lecture Circuit 1844-65
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Persian Poetry and the German Critical Tradition
  • Saint-Jean Perse and an American Literature of Restlessness
  • The Influence of Communication Technology on Anglo-American Lyric Poetry, 1900-1970
  • Clark Coolidge: Language, Phenomenology, Art
  • Testimony in the Work of Charles Reznikoff
  • Henry James and Acknowledgement
  • Overseeing History: Race, Labour and Public Memory in the Fiction of Herman Melville and William Faulkner
  • Cosmology and Capitalism in the Writings of Edward Dorn
  • Travel Writing About Europe by Antebellum American Authors
  • The Language of Morality in the Writing of Henry James
  • The Dramatic and the Theatrical in the Poety of T. S. Eliot
  • Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Transatlantic Sea Fiction 1797-1920

4. Former students

Major publications by recent PhD students include:

  • Michèle Mendelssohn, Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture (Edinburgh UP and Columbia UP 2007)
  • Brendan Cooper, Dark airs : John Berryman and the spiritual politics of Cold War American poetry (Oxford; New York: Peter Lang, 2009)
  • Jeff Einboden, Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature in Middle Eastern Languages. (Edinburgh UP, 2013)
  • Edward Ragg, Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction (Cambridge UP 2010)
  • R. J. Weir, coedited with Elizabeth Lorang, "Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863-1864 (Scholarly Editing, the Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing, Vol 34, 2013).
  • Eric B White, Transatlantic Avant-gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism (Edinburgh UP, 2013)

PhD students in American literature have moved on to academic jobs all over the world, including at Boston University; University of Fribourg; University College, Dublin; University of Edinburgh; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; University of Colorado; Tsinghua University; Northern Illinois University; University College, Cork; Oxford Brookes University; University of Wales, Swansea; Keele University; University of York; University College, London; Nottingham University; University of Sussex; University of Oxford.

Other students have gone on to careers in law, publishing, bookselling, radio, the police and wine writing, among others.

5. Tradition

Current strengths in the English Faculty at Cambridge build on a long and lively tradition, starting with Tony Tanner's pioneering studies Reign of Wonder (1965) , City of Words (1971), Scenes of Nature, Signs of Men (1989), and The American Mystery (2000). There is also a strong tradition of research with a transatlantic slant: several important books in the field were written by former or recent members (e.g. Susan Manning's 2002 Fragments of Union and Paul Giles's 2001 Transatlantic Insurrections). Transatlantic literary links also include American or Canadian writers who studied at Cambridge (Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Jennifer Egan, Claire Messud), and Cambridge students have gone on to have writing careers in the United States (Vladimir Nabokov,Thom Gunn, Zadie Smith).

6. Links to Research Groups

Contemporaries; Nineteenth-Century; American History in Cambridge