I am an Associate Professor of English and the Director of the Program in American Studies at Georgetown University. This website contains links to my published writings and course materials, as well as information about collaborative projects and works-in-progress.
My academic work focuses on the texts and technologies that have shaped American cultural history since the mid-nineteenth century. Building on my training in the field of American Studies, I have a wide range of research and teaching interests in critical race and ethnic studies, film and visual studies, sound studies, media theory, and the history of communications.
In addition to publishing essays and articles for various academic journals, I am the author of The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States (Harvard University Press, 2022), which explores how technologies for eavesdropping on communications have evolved as rapidly as communications technologies themselves. Third parties tapped the earliest telegraph wires and telephone networks during the nineteenth century, and the nation’s communications systems have been bugged ever since. Combining primary research in government archives with readings of court cases, wire thrillers, and Hollywood films, the book uncovers the history of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping in the United States from the nineteenth century to the near present. In the process, I consider how earlier generations of Americans confronted threats to electronic privacy that remain pervasive today. My research for The Listeners has been supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Grant (2017-2018) and a John W. Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress (2019). You can read more about the project at Smithsonian Magazine and the Washington Post.
My first book, Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), examined how efforts to preserve disappearing cultures influenced the development of audiovisual media. The book contains chapters on American anthropological attempts to salvage vanishing indigenous languages, on experiments with recording ancient songs and stories on the cylinder phonograph, and on the early histories of autochrome color photography and ethnographic cinema in the United States. Savage Preservation was named as a finalist for the American Studies Association’s Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize in 2015.
I received my B.A. in English from Amherst College and my PhD from Harvard University’s Program in the History of American Civilization (now American Studies). At Georgetown, I teach courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. cultural history, broadly defined.
Banner image credit: Photographs of Plains Indian Sign Language hand positions (c. 1880), Garrick Mallery Collection on Sign Language and Pictography, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institute (Numbered Manuscripts 1850s-1980s, MS 2372, Box 8).