Michelle Burnham

Professor, English

Phone: (408) 554-4386

Current Work

I work in early American literary and cultural studies from an interdisciplinary perspective that takes into account the historical, economic, social, and political contexts of writing about colonial and early national America. I have focused in particular on recovering lost or forgotten texts (particularly those by or about marginalized peoples) and on reading better-known texts in more interdisciplinary and global contexts. Much of my research has centered on interpreting cultural exchanges between indigenous peoples and settler colonists in North America, with special attention to texts by women and to the role of women in colonial society.

My current project is a book that reinterprets the late eighteenth-century revolutionary period within a transoceanic Atlantic-Pacific framework. The Calculus of Risk: Writing in the Revolutionary Atlantic-Pacific unearths the literary, commercial, and political connections between the two oceans at the end of the eighteenth century, connections that have been forgotten or buried by an emphasis in early American studies on the nation rather than the globe. These transoceanic connections were built and sustained by saltwater networks of sea travel, by the informal and formal networks of book exchange and publication, and by the circulation along both routes of revolutionary political ideas and practices. It argues that native peoples, women, and common sailors were central to those networks, and that the representation of their bodies in writing from the period exposes the exploitative and violent relations that underwrote the era’s most cherished political, commercial, and novelistic narratives.

Representative Publications

Captivity and Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature 1682-1861 (Univ. Press of New England, 1997).

Folded Selves: Colonial New England Writing in the World System (Univ. Press of New England, 2007)

Editor of The Female American (Broadview Press, 2001)

Editor of A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson (Heyday Books, 2008)

Female Bodies and Capitalist Drive: Sansay's Secret Historyin Transoceanic Context. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, special issue on Women and Early America edited by Tamara Harvey, 28.2 (2011): 177-204.

However Extravagant the Pretension: Bivocalism and U.S. Nation-Building in A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23 (2001): 325-47.