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Dr Erin ForbesBA, MA(Prin.), PhD(Prin.)

Lecturer in African American Literature

Erin Forbes

Dr Erin ForbesBA, MA(Prin.), PhD(Prin.)

Lecturer in African American Literature

Member of

Research interests

I work on African American and U.S. literature of the long 19th century, always with an eye toward the relay between racialized formations of the human and the aesthetic. I have written on literary and historical figures including Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Benjamin Rush, Richard Allan, Absalom Jones, David Walker, Nat Turner, Thomas De Quincey, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Jacobs. I’ve also explored the archives of Atlantic slave trade, late eighteenth-century yellow fever epidemics, crime writing in the popular periodical press, the penitentiary, slave revolts, and the Spiritualist movement.

I am currently completing a book, The Criminal’s Genius: Aesthetic Agency in American Literature, which locates genius on the plantation, in the swamp, and behind bars. Where historicist scholarship often explicitly sets out to restore individual agency to the dispossessed, I seek better ways of accounting for those countless others constitutively excluded from the liberal project by attending to the varieties of collectivist, distributed agency that arise where criminality and creativity meet.

My second book project, Reading the Nineteenth Century in Black, White and Green, adopts an environmental framework to show how aesthetic practices can sometimes preserve and perpetuate an understanding of human agency as reliant on intra-action with the nonhuman natural world. Drawing on African American literature and Africana thought, it critiques new materialist theories of nonhuman agency for their frequent occlusion of the crucial context of racialization. I am also in the very early stages of a new project on black motherhood.

I earned my B.A. at Reed College and my M.A. and Ph.D. at Princeton University. Before coming to Bristol, I worked as an Assistant and Associate Professor in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of Wyoming from 2009-2017.



At Bristol, my teaching on undergraduate units includes Literatures of Enslavement, Texts in a Global Context, Women Writers, Representations: This is (not) my America, and Black British Literature. I convene a special subject on African American Literature. At the MA level, I teach on the Black Humanites MA and the English MA units 'Animal Planet' and 'The Gothic' (the latter of which I am also convening in 2019).

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Centre for Black Humanities

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Postal address:
3-5 Woodland Road
United Kingdom