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Associate Professor of English/Graduate Coordinator
Oregon State University
2550 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, OR 97331 USA
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- PhD Princeton University (2004)
- MA Princeton University (1998)
- BA Vassar College (1995)
Peter Betjemann teaches American literature from its origins to the present, while specializing as a researcher in the period between 1840 and 1925. His work as a cabinetmaker’s assistant during his years as a student sparked his academic interest in the lexicons of the “artisanal” – today a familiar way of talking about everything from cheeses and coffee to mass-marketed decorative styles – as they developed in the nineteenth century. He is the author of Talking Shop: The Language of Craft in an Age of Consumption (University of Virginia Press, 2011), and publishes on literature and the decorative arts in such journals as Word and Image, American Literary Realism, and The Journal of Design History.
His two current projects address the Progressive era. The first focuses on the influence of the British science fiction writer and socialist H.G. Wells on such writers as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Willa Cather; an article called "Willa Cather's Time Machine: H.G. Wells, Alexander's Bridge, and Aesthetic Temporality" is forthcoming in the collection Cather and Aestheticism. A book in progress, Betjemann's second current project, describes how writers, speakers, and activists associated with progressivism described social, political, and ideological "designs" through metaphor and iconography originally belonging to the decorative arts.
Available Spring Term
Special Topic: Early Nineteenth-Century Literary Illustration in the U.S.
Between 1789 and 1860, painters and other visual artists made hundreds of works depicting scenes from literary texts. Thomas Cole, for instance, painted a series of canvasses after James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (1826). John Quidor, who held a day job painting fire engines, also painted dozens of fine-art works after the works of Washington Irving. A whole host of painters depicted scenes from Chateaubriand’s Atala (1808), a novel written by a Frenchman but set in the New World, along the gulf coast.
This course studies such pairings – of literary texts with visual ones – in order to test the hypothesis that the visual record of a text’s reception (that is, how artists saw it) can teach us something profound about its content. In some cases, the illustrations reveal profound, close, and often highly radical readings of the source material; a painting like Quidor’s The Money-Diggers (an 1832 composition based on a story of the same name by Irving) brings out unsettling dynamics of race and class that readers of Irving have only begun to address in the past few decades. In other cases, the illustrations tend to promote a “surface” reading of a text, casting its deeper implications into the shade. This course is thus centered on the assumption that what looks like a literary niche or a by-way (visual depictions of scenes from literary texts) actually bears a central and informative relation to the process by which literary texts become canonized and understood over the centuries.
- Chateaubriand, Francois-Rene. Atala (1808)
- Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
- Irving, Washington. The History of New York (1809)
- Irving, Washington. The Sketch Book (1819) and Tales of a Traveler (1824)
- Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)