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Elisabeth West

Professor of English
Department Chair
Office Location: 303 Howard Hall
West CV

I received my B.A. in English and Environmental Studies from Williams College, then worked a few years for the Environmental Protection Agency as a paralegal.  Returning to education, I received a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Stanford University, with a focus on British and American Literature 1750-1850, particularly representations of nature in fiction and nonfiction.

My primary scholarly interests are in early American literary culture, 18th and 19th century women writers, and writing and the environment. Sometimes these interests coincide, as in a recent essay published in Gendered Ecologies, while sometimes they do not. I am currently working on an essay on Melville and the ecogothic; an essay on visual images of ancient ruins in the midwest; and a book project on early American representations of domestic violence and “bad” marriages.  I am involved in several scholarly organizations focused on the teaching of early American writing and the recovery of texts that were published long ago then forgotten.  

In my courses you can expect an interdisciplinary focus, exposure to popular writings of the past, consideration of genre and narrative form (particularly as it relates to book history), and a dedication to the close reading of texts through a variety of methodologies. I teach a course on the Salem Witch Trials, which has broadened my sense of teaching more than I ever imagined, as well as a variety of 19th century American literature courses.

I also teach a class on Transatlantic Landscapes, a class on Captivity Narratives, Reading/Writing Nature, and a class on Nature Writing and Activism (that has now been adapted to an FYS). My classes often are crosslisted with Women’s and Gender Studies, the Honors Program, Law, Politics, and Society, or the Interdisciplinary Study of Humanities and Science. My best memories in the classroom are when I learn from students, from discussion, or from encountering new reading material. 

When I am not reading, writing, or grading, I enjoy spending time watching my children do the things they love to do – sing, play tennis, horseback ride – especially when it involves short travel and company.  I also enjoy quiet walks, watching trees in the wind, observing fireflies or cicadas, and loving my two-legged and four-legged family. During the quarantine, I am rediscovering my appreciation for a slower pace of life and am working on baking/cooking projects.


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