Prof Sarah Meer, Selwyn



Biographical Information

Sarah Meer is a Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature. 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.

Research Interests

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, the American Claimant was the alleged heir to a British (or African, or European) title or estate. Claimants conveyed distrust about transatlantic legacies, including political or cultural succession. They were invoked and shared across the Anglophone Atlantic, especially between Britain and the United States. In South Africa, they became a fictional response to black students who acquired American degrees. The book touches on theatre history and periodical studies, and activism, education, sculpture, fashion and reform. It ranges from Our American Cousin to Bleak House, Little Lord Fauntleroy to Frederick Douglass' Paper: writers include Frances Trollope, Tom Taylor, Julia Griffiths, Frederick Douglass, 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. It was a finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award and was widely reviewed, 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 was 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 followed the different strands of Uncle Tom Mania —  investigating transatlantic connections, slavery and abolition, and theatre. In 2006, Meer co-edited Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture (University of Iowa Press). In 2022, she edited a special issue of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film on Dion Boucicault, incorporating an edition of his first Irish play, Andy Blake; or, the Irish Diamond. Her current project is Dion Boucicault and Theatre's Adaptive Age, 1840-90, a book on the global development of nineteenth-century anglophone theatre. Beyond that lies a project on the transatlantic imagination of a Southern African region — what is now called KwaZulu-Natal.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

Nineteenth-century literature and culture, particularly topics relating to the theatre, to slavery and abolition, or to transatlantic connections.

African American literature. 

Selected Publications

  • 'Irish Rebellion on the Sensational Stage', Nineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: The 1860s, ed. Pamela K. Gilbert (Cambridge UP 2024)
  • 'Dion Boucicault', Oxford Bibliographies in Victorian Literature, ed. Lisa A. Rodensky (Oxford UP, 2023) 
  • Special Issue on Dion Boucicault, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, 49.2 (November 2022)
  • American Claimants: The Transatlantic Romance, c. 1820-1920 (Oxford UP, 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 UP, 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 UP, 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 UP, 2016)
  •  'Minstrelsy and Uncle Tom', in The Oxford Handbook of American Drama ed. Jeffrey Richards and Heather Nathans (Oxford UP, 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 
  • '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, (Cambridge UP 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)