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Robert S. Levine

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Distinguished University Professor, English
Affiliate Professor, American Studies

(301) 405-3836

3219 Tawes Hall
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Research Expertise

African American/African Diaspora
American
Textual and Digital Studies

Curriculum Vitae
Distinguished University Professor
 

The impressively prolific Bob Levine has been an influential force in American and African American literature for over thirty years, and more recently has contributed important work to the burgeoning field of hemispheric and transnational American literary studies. His prominent publications cover an array of themes critical to an an understanding of 19th-century American literature. His most recent books are The Lives of Frederick Douglass (2016) and Race, Transnationalism, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies (2018). He has also published Conspiracy and Romance: Studies in Brockden Brown, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Melville (1989), Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity (1997), and Dislocating Race and Nation (2008).  His next monograph, The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, is scheduled for publication by W. W. Norton in August 2021. In addition to his critical books, Levine's scholarly editions of Melville, Hawthorne, Martin Delany, Douglass, James Whitfield, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Beecher Stowe have helped to make available both canonical and lesser known works to wider audiences.

Levine is a highly visible figure in Americanist literary circles, sitting on the editorial boards of American Literary History, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and Journal of American Studies, serving as General Editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, and editing numerous volumes of collected criticism, including Hemispheric American Studies (coedited with Caroline Levander) and The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville. Nevertheless, Levine remains equally visible in Tawes Hall. Besides organizing the annual Local Americanists lecture series, Levine is known as a vigorous and enthusiastic teacher committed to the success of his graduate and undergraduate students.

Levine's excellence has not gone without recognition. In 2007 he was honored as a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, and in 2013 he was appointed Distinguished University Professor. His recent awards include a 2012-13 National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship and a 2013-14 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. During 2013-15 he was a visiting Faculty Fellow at Texas A&M’s Institute for Advanced Study. In 2014 the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association awarded him the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American literary studies.

Awards & Grants

Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies

The Hubbell Medal, which has been awarded since 1964, is named for the founding editor of American Literature.

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Jay B. Hubbell, a long-time professor at Duke University, was one of the pioneers of American literary scholarship. Hubbell championed treating American authors as objects of serious attention at a time when academic students of literature focused almost entirely on English authors. The award named for him has been awarded to some of the most distinguished practitioners of the discipline he helped create. The citations by which the awards were made and the acceptance speeches with which they were received, the more recent of which are available below, form an illuminating and often touching record of one part of the scholarly life.

Guggenheim Fellowship (awarded 2012)

From the late 1970s to the present, I have been passionate about doing interdisciplinary cultural and historical work on nineteenth-century American literature.

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Lead: Robert S. Levine
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2013 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (awarded 2012)

National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship

Frederick Douglass Once Turned to Fiction to Describe What He Considered True Heroism.

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The story behind Douglass‘s only novella.

Choice Magazine Outstanding Book

Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity

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Levine's book Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity won an Outstanding Book Award from Choice magazine in 1997.

Publications

The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

The absorbing narrative of Frederick Douglass’s heated struggle with President Andrew Johnson reveals a new perspective on Reconstruction’s demise.

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A Failed Promise Robert Levine cover

When Andrew Johnson rose to the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, African Americans were optimistic that Johnson would pursue aggressive federal policies for Black equality. Just a year earlier, Johnson had cast himself as a “Moses” for the Black community. Frederick Douglass, the country’s most influential Black leader, increasingly doubted the president was sincere in supporting Black citizenship. In a dramatic meeting between Johnson and a Black delegation at the White House, the president and Douglass came to verbal blows over the fate of Reconstruction. Their animosity only grew as Johnson sought to undermine Reconstruction and conciliate leaders of the former Confederate states.

Learn more about The Failed Promise.

The House of the Seven Gables

Robert S. Levine’s insightful introduction, revised headnotes, expanded explanatory footnotes, and note on the text and annotations.

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This Norton Critical Edition works with the first printing from the nineteenth century and presents relevant contextual and critical materials. The 2020 edition is a revision of Levine's earlier Norton Critical Edition of The House of the Seven Gables.

Read more about The House of the Seven Gables.

Race, Transnationalism, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies

American literary nationalism is traditionally understood as a cohesive literary tradition developed in the newly independent United States that emphasized the unique features of America and consciously differentiated American literature from British lite

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Robert S. Levine challenges this assessment by exploring the conflicted, multiracial, and contingent dimensions present in the works of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American and African American writers. Conflict and uncertainty, not consensus, Levine argues, helped define American literary nationalism during this period.

Read more about Race, Transnationalism, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies.

 

Pierre Or, The Ambiguities

When Pierre was published one year after Moby-Dick, expectations were high. Readers expected—and Melville delivered—adventure, humor, and brilliance.

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This Norton Critical Edition works with the first printing from the nineteenth century and includes relevant contextual and critical materials.

Read more about Pierre Or, The Ambiguities.

The Lives of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass’s fluid, changeable sense of his own life story is reflected in the many conflicting accounts he gave of key events and relationships during his journey from slavery to freedom.

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Frederick Douglass’s fluid, changeable sense of his own life story is reflected in the many conflicting accounts he gave of key events and relationships during his journey from slavery to freedom. Nevertheless, when these differing self-presentations are put side by side and consideration is given individually to their rhetorical strategies and historical moment, what emerges is a fascinating collage of Robert S. Levine’s elusive subject. The Lives of Frederick Douglass is revisionist biography at its best, offering new perspectives on Douglass the social reformer, orator, and writer.

Out of print for a hundred years when it was reissued in 1960, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) has since become part of the canon of American literature and the primary lens through which scholars see Douglass’s life and work. Levine argues that the disproportionate attention paid to the Narrative has distorted Douglass’s larger autobiographical project. The Lives of Frederick Douglass focuses on a wide range of writings from the 1840s to the 1890s, particularly the neglected Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1892), revised and expanded only three years before Douglass’s death. Levine provides fresh insights into Douglass’s relationships with John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, and his former slave master Thomas Auld, and highlights Douglass’s evolving positions on race, violence, and nation. Levine’s portrait reveals that Douglass could be every bit as pragmatic as Lincoln—of whom he was sometimes fiercely critical—when it came to promoting his own work and goals.

Read more about The Lives of Frederick Douglass.

The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville provides timely, critical essays on Melville's classic works. The essays have been specially commissioned for this volume and provide a complete overview of Melville's career.

English | Center for Literary and Comparative Studies

Lead: Robert S. Levine
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The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville provides timely, critical essays on Melville's classic works. The essays have been specially commissioned for this volume and provide a complete overview of Melville's career. Melville's major novels are discussed, along with a range of his short fiction and poetry, including neglected works ripe for rediscovery. The volume includes essays on such new topics as Melville and oceanic studies, Melville and animal studies, and Melville and the planetary, along with a number of essays that focus on form and aesthetics. Written at a level both challenging and accessible, this New Companion brings together a team of leading international scholars to offer students of American literature the most comprehensive introduction available to Melville's art.

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1820-1865

The Eighth Edition features a diverse and balanced variety of works and thorough but judicious editorial apparatus throughout.

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8th Edition.
The Eighth Edition features a diverse and balanced variety of works and thorough but judicious editorial apparatus throughout. The new edition also includes more complete works, much-requested new authors, 170 in-text images, new and re-thought contextual clusters, and other tools that help instructors teach the course they want to teach.

Read more a the publisher's website.

 

The Works of James M. Whitfield: "America" and Other Writings by a Nineteenth-Century African American Poet"

In this comprehensive volume of the collected writings of James Monroe Whitfield (1822-71), Robert S. Levine and Ivy G. Wilson restore this African American poet, abolitionist, and intellectual to his rightful place in the arts and politics

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In this comprehensive volume of the collected writings of James Monroe Whitfield (1822-71), Robert S. Levine and Ivy G. Wilson restore this African American poet, abolitionist, and intellectual to his rightful place in the arts and politics of the nineteenth-century United States.

Whitfield's works, including poems from his celebrated America and Other Poems (1853), were printed in influential journals and newspapers, such as Frederick Douglass's The North Star. A champion of the black emigration movement during the 1850s, Whitfield was embraced by African Americans as a black nationalist bard when he moved from his longtime home in Buffalo, New York, to California in the early 1860s. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, his reputation had faded.

For this volume, Levine and Wilson gathered and annotated all of Whitfield's extant writings, both poetry and prose, and many pieces are reprinted here for the first time since their original publication. In their thorough introduction, the editors situate Whitfield in relation to key debates on black nationalism in African American culture, underscoring the importance of poetry and periodical culture to black writing during the period.

Clotel, or The President's Daughter, by William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853), the first novel written by an African American, was published in London while Brown was still legally regarded as 'property' within the borders of the United States.

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William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853), the first novel written by an African American, was published in London while Brown was still legally regarded as 'property' within the borders of the United States. The novel was inspired by the story of Thomas Jefferson's purported sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. Brown fictionalizes the stories of Jefferson's mistress, daughters, and granddaughters -- all of whom are slaves -- in order to demythologize the dominant U.S. cultural narrative celebrating Jefferson's America as a nation of freedom and equality for all. The documents in this edition include excerpts from Brown's sources for the novel -- fictio, political essays, sermons, and presidential proclamations; selections that illuminate the range of contemporary attitudes concerning race, slavery, and prejudice; and pieces that advocate various methods of resistance and reform.

Revised and updated from the 2000 edition.

The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

One of Hawthorne’s great romances, The Blithedale Romance draws upon the author’s experiences at Brook Farm, the short-lived utopian community where Hawthorne spent much of 1841. 

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Blithedale (“Happy Valley”), another would-be modern Arcadia, is the stage for Hawthorne’s grimly comic tragedy (Henry James famously called the novel “the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest” of Hawthorne’s “unhumorous fictions”). In his introduction, Robert S. Levine considers bio-graphical and historical contexts and offers a fresh appreciation of the novel’s ironic first-person narrator.

One of Hawthorne’s great romances, The Blithedale Romance draws upon the author’s experiences at Brook Farm, the short-lived utopian community where Hawthorne spent much of 1841. Blithedale (“Happy Valley”), another would-be modern Arcadia, is the stage for Hawthorne’s grimly comic tragedy (Henry James famously called the novel “the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest” of Hawthorne’s “unhumorous fictions”). In his introduction, Robert S. Levine considers bio-graphical and historical contexts and offers a fresh appreciation of the novel’s ironic first-person narrator.

Conspiracy and Romance: Studies in Brockden Brown, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Melville

Robert Levine examines the American romance in a new historical context. His book offers a fresh reading of the genre, establishing its importance to American culture between the founding of the Republic and the Civil War.

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Paperback edition; hardback published 1989.

Robert Levine has examined the American romance in a historical context. His book offers a fresh reading of the genre, establishing its importance to American culture between the founding of the republic and the Civil war. With convincing historical and literary detail, Levine shows that anxieties about various subversive elements - French revolutionaries, secret societies, Catholic immigrants, African slaves - are central to the fictional worlds of Brockden Brown, Cooper, Hawthorne and Melville. Ormond, The Bravo, The Blithedale Romance, and Benito Cereno are persuasively explicated by Levine to demonstrate that the romance addressed many of the same conflicts and ideals that gave rise to the American republic. Americans conceived of America as a romance, and their romances dramatised the historical conditions of the culture, The fear that conspiracies would subvert the order and integrity of the new nation were recurrent and widespread; Levine makes us see that these fears informed the works of our major romance writers from the turn of the century until the Civil War.

Dislocating Race and Nation: Episodes in Nineteenth-Century American Literary Nationalism

Pairing authors with major political and cultural events in the 19th century United States, Levine's book challenges the perceived cohesion of "American literary nationalism."

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Pairing authors with major political and cultural events in the 19th century United States, Levine's book challenges the perceived cohesion of "American literary nationalism." According to the UNC Press website, Levine's study proposes that by examining the discordance in literature, our "American literary history helps us to better understand and learn from writers trying to make sense of their own historical moments."

Eric Sundquist of UCLA has called Dislocating Race and Nation "rich and compelling" and John Stauffer of Harvard said that Levine's work is "one of the most important works of American literary history, cultural criticism, and the contested nature of nationalism to emerge in recent years."

Read more about Dislocating Race and Nation.

Frederick Douglass & Herman Melville: Essays in Relation

Douglass and Melville addressed in their writings a range of issues that continue to resonate in American culture.

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Douglass and Melville addressed in their writings a range of issues that continue to resonate in American culture: the reach and limits of democracy; the nature of freedom; the roles of race, gender, and sexuality; and the place of the United States in the world. Yet they are rarely discussed together. In eighteen original essays, the contributors to this collection explore the convergences and divergences of these two extraordinary literary lives. 

Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, by Herman Melville

Based on the life of an actual soldier who claimed to have fought at Bunker Hill, Israel Potter is unique among Herman Melville's books: a novel in the guise of a biography.

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Based on the life of an actual soldier who claimed to have fought at Bunker Hill, Israel Potter is unique among Herman Melville's books: a novel in the guise of a biography. In telling the story of Israel Potter's fall from Revolutionary War hero to peddler on the streets of London, where he obtained a livelihood by crying "Old Chairs to Mend," Melville alternated between invented scenes and historical episodes. This edition reproduces the definitive text and includes selections from Potter's autobiography.

Hemispheric American Studies

This landmark collection brings together a range of exciting new comparative work in the burgeoning field of hemispheric studies.  

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This landmark collection brings together a range of exciting new comparative work in the burgeoning field of hemispheric studies.  Scholars address the urgent question of how we might reframe disciplinary boundaries within the broad area of what is generally called American studies. The essays take as their starting points such questions as what happens if the "fixed" borders of a nation are recognized not only as historically produced political constructs but also as component parts of a deeper, more multilayered series of national and indigenous histories?

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Seventh Edition: Volume B: 1820-1865

The Norton Anthology of American Literature is the classic survey of American literature. Among the works included in their entirety are Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Thoreau's Walden.

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Lead: Robert S. Levine
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The Norton Anthology of American Literature is the classic survey of American literature. Among the works included in their entirety are Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Thoreau's Walden.

The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This all-new edition of Hawthorne’s celebrated 1851 novel is based on The Ohio State University Press’s Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Lead: Robert S. Levine
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This all-new edition of Hawthorne’s celebrated 1851 novel is based on The Ohio State University Press’s Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It is accompanied by thorough explanatory annotations and an insightful introduction to the novel and antebellum culture by Robert S. Levine.

"Contexts" brings together a generous selection of primary materials intended to provide readers with background on the novel’s central themes.  Historical documents include accounts of Salem’s history by Thomas Maule, Robert Calef, Joseph B. Felt, and Charles W. Upham, which Hawthorne drew on for The House of the Seven Gables.  The importance of the house in antebellum America—as a manifestation of the body, a site of genealogical history, and a symbol of the republic’s middle class—is explored through the diverse writings of William Andrus Alcott, Edgar Allan Poe, and J. H. Agnew, among others.  The impact of technological developments on the novel, especially of daguerreotypy, is considered through the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gustave de Beaumont, and Alexis de Tocqueville, among others.  Also included are two of Hawthorne’s literary sketches—"Alice Doane’s Appeal" and "The Old Apple Dealer"—that demonstrate the continuity of Hawthorne’s style, from his earlier periodical writing to his later career as a novelist.

"Criticism" provides a comprehensive overview of the critical commentary on the novel from its publication to the present.  Among the twenty-seven critics represented are Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry James, Nina Baym, Eric Sundquist, Richard H. Millington, Alan Trachtenberg, Amy Schrager Lang, and Christopher Castiglia.

A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader

Martin R. Delany (1812-85) has been called the "Father of Black Nationalism," but his extraordinary career also encompassed the roles of abolitionist, physician, editor, explorer, politician, army officer, novelist, and political theorist.

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Lead: Robert S. Levine
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Martin R. Delany (1812-85) has been called the "Father of Black Nationalism," but his extraordinary career also encompassed the roles of abolitionist, physician, editor, explorer, politician, army officer, novelist, and political theorist. Despite his enormous influence in the nineteenth century, and his continuing influence on black nationalist thought in the twentieth century, Delany has remained a relatively obscure figure in U.S. culture, generally portrayed as a radical separatist at odds with the more integrationist Frederick Douglass.

This pioneering documentary collection offers readers a chance to discover, or rediscover, Delany in all his complexity. Through nearly 100 documents--approximately two-thirds of which have not been reprinted since their initial nineteenth-century publications--it traces the full sweep of his fascinating career. Included are selections from Delany's early journalism, his emigrationist writings of the 1850s, his 1859-62 novel, Blake (one of the first African American novels published in the United States), and his later writings on Reconstruction. Incisive and shrewd, angry and witty, Delany's words influenced key nineteenth-century debates on race and nation, addressing issues that remain pressing in our own time.

Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity

The differences between Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany have been historically reduced to a simple binary pronouncement: assimilationist versus separatist. Now Levine restores the relationship of these writers to its original complexity.

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The differences between Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany have been historically reduced to a simple binary pronouncement: assimilationist versus separatist. Now Levine restores the relationship of these two important nineteenth-century African American writers to its original complexity. He explores their debates over issues like abolitionism, emigration, and nationalism, illuminating each man's influence on the othe's political vision. Though each saw himself as the single best representative of his race, Douglass has been accorded that role by history -- while Delany, according to Levine, has suffered a fate typical of the black separatist: marginalization. In restoring Delany to his place in literary and cultural history, Levine makes possible a fuller understand of the politics of antebellum African American leadership.

The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville

The essays herein have been specially commissioned for this volume, and provide a critical introduction and comprehensive overview of Melville's career.

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The essays herein have been specially commissioned for this volume, and provide a critical introduction and comprehensive overview of Melville's career. All of Melville's key works, including Moby-Dick, Typee, White Jacket, The Tambourine in Glory and The Confidence Man, are examined, as well as most of his poetry and short fiction. Written at a level both challenging and accessible, the volume provides fresh prerspectives on one of the most significant writers of nineteenth-century America whose work continues to fascinate readers and stimulate new study.

Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe's second antislavery novel was written partly in response to the criticisms of Uncle Tom's Cabin by both white Southerners and black abolitionists.

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Stowe's second antislavery novel was written partly in response to the criticisms of Uncle Tom's Cabin by both white Southerners and black abolitionists. In Dred (1856), Stowe attempts to explore the issue of slavery from an African American perspective. In his introduction, Robert Levine outlines the antislavery debates in which Stowe had become deeply involved before and during her writing of Dred. Levine shows that in addition to its significance in literary history, the novel remains relevant to present-day discussions of cross-racial perspectives.