Position title: Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2016-2017)
Natural History and Personhood in Early America
How did transatlantic writers use “I” in their discourse? When did “I” become the familiar protagonist of American letters? Julia’s project uses the first-person observations at the heart of natural history writing to interrogate the models of personhood developing between 1783 and 1830. Critics have traditionally emphasized forms of first-person prose associated with Puritan spiritual autobiography, especially narratives about personal transformation. She argues that natural history revolves around an equally significant form of first-person prose, one that prioritizes exterior experience rather than interior life. By focusing on empirical observation and its legacies, Julia identifies a wider net of narrators and strategies garnering authority in early American prose. Empirical observation shapes prose writing across contexts, forcing us to reconsider the models of personhood and individuality circulating in the period. Her project constellates a series of cases in which observation, personhood, and narrative agency meet their limits.
Julia Dauer is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at UW-Madison. Her research focuses on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature and the history science. Her dissertation uses natural history to access a much larger crisis of personhood that characterized literary, scientific, and political discourse at the turn of the nineteenth century and continues to resonate in the contemporary United States. Dauer has taught literature and composition courses at UW-Madison and worked as an instructor in the Writing Center. Her dissertation research has been supported by fellowships from the Department of English, the Graduate School, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. She is currently at work on her dissertation entitled “Natural History and Personhood in Early America.”