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Department of English Language and Literature


Leon Jackson

Title: Associate Professor
Department: English Language and Literature
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-576-5948
Office: HUO 419
Resources: English Language and Literature


MTS, Harvard Divinity School, 1995
DPhil, Oxford University, 1994
BA, University of Lancaster, 1987


   Early National and Antebellum Literature
   Eighteenth Century Atlantic Literature
   The History of the Book and Authorship


ENGL 287     Survey of American Literature
ENGL 382     The Enlightenment
ENGL 421      American Literature, 1830-1860
ENGL 490F    Fifteen Minutes: Fame, Shame, and Reputation
ENGL 700      Introduction to Graduate Study in English
ENGL 744      American Romanticism
ENGL 756      The History of the Book in America to 1900
SCHC 350H   The Birth and Death of the Book: from Gutenberg to Google


My first book, The Business of Letters (Stanford 2008), is a study of authorship in early national and antebellum America that seeks to shift our scholarly focus away from an emphasis on the professionalization of writing and toward a more nuanced and historically grounded understanding of authorial exchange practices. My core argument is that in the early nineteenth century, authorship was transacted not through a single 'marketplace,' but rather through multiple economies, each with their own rules, logics, and sometimes even currencies. I argue, moreover, that the core historical transformation in the economic practice of authorship was not from amateur to professional writing, but from economies characterized by social embeddedness to more impersonal forms of authorial exchange.

My new project, Scarlet Letters, is a history of blackmail in the anglophone Atlantic world from the Early Modern period to the present. Tracing the origin of the word blackmail to the practice of paying protection money to raiders on the lawless Anglo-Scottish border in the fifteenth century, I argue that blackmail is a paradigmatic phenomenon in places, such as the border, where the reach of the nation exceeds the grasp of the state, and, later on, where individual behavior eludes the norms of civil society. Where neither the state nor civil society can exert force directly, the blackmailer steps in, functioning as pillar and pariah of acceptability, depending on who is paying whom. A study of blackmail enables one to explore the gritty lived reality of specific local communities, while using the presence of blackmail as a means to track the larger phenomena of state formation and the emergence of civil society. My book traces these developments from the sixteenth century use of professional informers, through seventeenth century debates concerning prostitution, eighteenth century controversies about sodomy, the nineteenth century's struggle with the rise of the penny press, and twentieth century notions of celebrity. It ends with an exploration of the ways in which the rise of the Internet, blogging, tweeting, and attendant crimes of hacking, identity theft, and electronic outing render the possibility of privacy and secrecy increasingly tenuous. While clearly indebted to social and cultural history, my project also stakes a claim in literary history. I argue, in particular, that literary texts have not simply depicted acts of blackmail (although there are a great many more such depictions than we have supposed), but that literary texts have often served as the vehicles through which blackmail has been threatened. The production of romans a clef, Juvenalian satires, and sui generis forms such as antebellum 'wants to know' column in flash newspapers and magazines functioned to render fungible socially inappropriate behavior.

I continue to pursue my interests in print culture, with a recent long essay in Book History, entitled "The Talking Book and the Talking Book Historian," on the ways in which African American Studies and print culture studies have - and have not - intersected.


   "The Rage for Lions": Edgar Allan Poe and Culture of Celebrity," in Locating Poe: Remapping Antebellum Print Culture, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Jerome McGann (forthcoming, Louisina State Univ. Press, 2011).
   '"A Species of Literature Almost Beneath Contempt": Edgar Allan Poe and the World of Literary Competitions,' in The Other Poe, Ed. James Hutchisson (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Press, forthcoming Spring 2011).
   'The Talking Book and the Talking Book Historian: African American Cultures of Print -- The State of the Discipline,' Book History 13 (2010): 251-308.
   'Making Friends at the Southern Literary Messenger,' in An Extensive Republic: Books Culture and Society in the New Nation, ed. Robert Gross and Mary Kelley, Vol. 2, A History of the Book in America (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2010), 416-421.
   'Books and Colleges, 1790-1840,' (with Dean Grodzins) in An Extensive Republic: Books, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, ed. Robert Gross and Mary Kelley, Vol. 2, A History of the Book in America (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2010), 318-332.
   The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).
   'We Won't Leave Until We Get Some: Reading the Newsboy's New Year's Address,' Common-Place 8 (January 2008). Visit Site
   '"Behold Our Literary Mohawk Poe": Literary Nationalism and the 'Indianation' of American Culture," ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 48 (2002): 97-133.
   'Historicizing Poe at the Turn of the Century,' Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism 35 (2002): 76-82.
   'Poe and Print Culture' Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism 33 (Winter, 2001): 1-6.
   '"The Italics are Mine": Edgar Allan Poe and the Semiotics of Print,' in Illuminating Letters: Essays on Type Faces and Literary Interpretation, ed. Paul Gutjahr and Megan Benton (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 139-161.
   'Rising Stars and Raging Diseases: The Rhetoric and Reality of Antebellum Canonization,' Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 25 (2000): 159-176.
   'The Reader Retailored: Thomas Carlyle, His American Audiences, and the Politics of Evidence,' Book History 2 (1999): 146-172. Rpt. in Reading Acts: US Readers' Interactions with Literature, 1800-1950, ed. Barbara Ryan and Amy Thomas (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2002), 79-106.
   'Jedidiah Morse and the Transformation of Print Culture in New England, 1784-1826,' Early American Literature 34 (1999): 2-31.
   'The Social Construction of Thomas Carlyle's New England Reputation, 1834-36,' Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 106 (April, 1996): 167-191.
   'The Rights of Man and the Rites of Youth: Fraternity and Riot at Eighteenth-Century Harvard,' History of Higher Education Annual 15 (1995): 5-49. Rpt. in The American College in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Roger Geiger (Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 2000), 46-79.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.