Dr Sarah Meer, Selwyn




Biographical Information

Sarah Meer is a Senior University Lecturer in English, and is also a Fellow and a Director of Studies at Selwyn College. 

She was born and spent her early years in Zambia; her family is British and South African Indian. She took her BA and PhD degrees at Jesus College, Cambridge, and was the Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies at Selwyn College between 1995-1998. She lectured at Nottingham Trent University during 1998-2003.

Her most recent book, American Claimants: The Transatlantic Romance, c. 1820-1920 (Oxford, 2020), recovers a major nineteenth-century literary figure. A character and a plot device in novels and plays, sometimes just an imaginative possibility, the American Claimant was the alleged heir to a British (or African, or European) title or estate. Often appearing in plots about dubious inheritance, claimants also took more figurative forms, in explorations of political or cultural succession. They were invoked and shared across the Anglophone Atlantic, especially between Britain and the United States. Later, they were exported to South Africa, as a fictional response to black students who acquired American degrees. The book argues that the claimant was a major and pervasive motif, invoked to imagine cultural difference, or to express ideas about identity, legitimacy, and the past.  It could dramatise tensions between tradition and change, or questions of exclusion and power — slavery and segregation, or privileges of gender and class. American Claimants explores the figure's implications for writers and editors, and also for missionaries, artists, and students. The book touches on theatre history and periodical studies, literary marketing and reprinting, and activism, education, sculpture, fashion and reform. Texts discussed range from Our American Cousin to Bleak House, Little Lord Fauntleroy to Frederick Douglass' Paper; writers include Frances Trollope, Tom Taylor, Julia Griffiths, Alexander Crummell, Charles Dickens, Yolande DuBois, John Dube, James McCune Smith, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mark Twain.

Meer's first book, Uncle Tom Mania (University of Georgia Press, 2005) was about slavery and abolition, relating fiction to blackface minstrelsy in Britain and America. It was a finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award and was widely reviewed across several literary and historical fields, including in Victorian Studies, New England Quarterly, Legacy, American Literature, Journal of American Culture, Journal of Southern History, Journal of African American History, American Literary Scholarship, Civil War Book Review, Slavery and Abolition.

Sample comments: ‘Exhaustively researched and boldly written ... a complex, confounding tale ... an outstanding investigation’ (Journal of African American History); 'exemplifies [Atlantic studies] at its very best ... the magnitude of Meer’s accomplishment ... for all its archival virtuosity and scholarly erudition, Uncle Tom Maniais tremendously readable’ (New England Quarterly); ‘This book is formidably researched and acutely and intricately argued ... Highly recommended’ (American Library Association). 

Its first chapter has been reprinted in Elizabeth Ammons ed., Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Casebook (Oxford University Press, 2007) and in Harold Bloom ed., Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (Chelsea House, 2008). 

Subsequent research projects have grown out of the different strands of Uncle Tom Mania —  investigating transatlantic connections, slavery and abolition, and theatre. Meer co-edited Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture (University of Iowa Press, 2006). Her current project is Dion Boucicault and the Adaptive Age, a book on nineteenth-century theatre, adaptation and international encounters. She is also editing a special issue of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film on Boucicault, which will contain the first modern edition of Andy Blake: the Irish Diamond. Beyond that lies a project on the transatlantic imagination of a Southern African region — what is now called KwaZulu-Natal.



Research Interests

Nineteenth-century literature and culture, including fiction, memoir and popular theatre. Transatlantic connections. Slavery and Abolition. African American literature (particularly from the nineteenth century).


Areas of Graduate Supervision

Nineteenth-century and American topics

Selected Publications

  • American Claimants: The Transatlantic Romance, c. 1820-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2020)
  • 'Frederick Douglass, Orator', History Now 50 ( special edition: Frederick Douglass at 200, Winter 2018)
  • 'Melodrama and Race', Cambridge Companion to English Melodrama, ed. Carolyn Williams (Cambridge University Press, 2018) 
  • 'Adaptation, Originality and Law: Dion Boucicault and Charles Reade', Nineteenth Century Literature and Film, 2016
  • 'Slave Narratives as Literature', Cambridge Companion to Slavery in American Literature, ed. Ezra Tawil (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
  • 'Old Master Letters and Letters From the Old World: The Uses of Correspondence in Frederick Douglass's Newspapers', Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing, ed. Celeste Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, Matthew Pethers (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
  •  'Minstrelsy and Uncle Tom', in The Oxford Handbook of American Drama ed. Jeffrey Richards and Heather Nathans (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  •  'Foreign Constellations in a National Drama: Becoming American in Boucicault's Belle Lamar', Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film, 39/2, 2012
  •  'Public and Personal Letters: Julia Griffiths and Frederick Douglass's Paper', Slavery and Abolition 33, 2012
  •  'Chapter XXX' Commentary for Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era (online republication): Harriet Beecher Stowe-Center, Hartford, 2012 http://nationalera.wordpress.com/further-reading/1753-2/ 
  • 'Three Farces' (translated into Japanese by Beniko Imamura) - Higeki Kigeki (Tragedy and Comedy: Japanese theatrical magazine), 2011
  •  'Boucicault's Misdirections: Race, Transatlantic Theatre and Social Position in The Octoroon', Atlantic Studies 6, 2009
  •  'Douglass as Orator and Editor', The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass, ed. Maurice E. Lee, 2009
  •  'Dion Boucicault, the "Political Shaughraun": Transatlantic Irishness and an International Theatre', Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations 10, 2006
  • (with Denise Kohn and Emily B. Todd),  'Introduction: Reading Stowe as a Transatlantic Writer', Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture (University of Iowa Press, 2006)
  •  'The Libyan Sibyl: Slavery, Neoclassical Images, and a Non-Atlantic Africa', Complexions of Race: the African Atlantic, eds. Fritz Gysin and Cynthia S. Hamilton, (LIT. Verlag, 2005)
  •  Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s (University of Georgia Press, 2005)
  • 'Competing Representations: Douglass, the Ethiopian Serenaders and Ethnic Exhibition in London', Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform, eds. Martin Crawford and Alan Rice (University of Georgia Press, 1999)