Thomas W. Howard
I am an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Bilkent University, where I teach in the Program in Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas. I earned my PhD in English & American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis in May 2023. I specialize in nineteenth-century American and transatlantic literature, literature and science, and the environmental humanities.
My research focuses on how a stream of speculative modes of inquiry emerged alongside the professional sciences in the nineteenth century. By using creative metaphors, poetic language, and functional ambiguity—features more typically associated with literature—these more speculative science writers encouraged their readers to continue the experimental process. I am particulary interested in writers who appear on the periphery of scientific disciplines, especially ecology and psychology—two fields developing out of the “natural philosophy” of the nineteenth century.
In my current book project, Aphoristic Science: Ecology, Psychology, and Nineteenth-Century American Literature, I center this speculative science writing in the aphorism, a transatlantic style of writing with origins in the scientific texts of Hippocrates and Francis Bacon. Integrating scholarship in literature, philosophy, and science, I identify a particularly American stream of aphoristic thought permeating scientific prose in the nineteenth century. I focus on an interconnected group of American Transcendentalists and Pragmatists—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, William James, and W. E. B. Du Bois—who use the aphorism to engage readers in an unending process of interpretation. This “centrifugal” style encourages readers to continue a process of inquiry that spirals outward in new and creative directions. In defining the aphorism, I turn to the German-language tradition of Aphorismus (as distinct from Sentenz: the “sentences” or maxims, especially of the French moralists) to identify in the form an inherent evasiveness and ambiguity. Along the way, I draw on the extensive history of the aphorism to situate the form among science studies, affect theory, and a wide range of transnational theories of the aphorism.
February 21, 2024 (Ankara, Türkiye): I will be presenting the paper “‘Radicle’ Empiricism: Plant-Thinking in Henry David Thoreau’s Journal” at a colloquium for the Program in Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas at Bilkent University. An accessibility copy of the PDF will be available here.
March 14–16, 2024 (Pasadena, CA): I will be presenting the paper “Endlessly Rereading Thoreau’s Journalistic Fragments” at the biennial conference of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. This will be part of my organized panel “Endlessness: Open-ended Interpretation and the Affordances of Short Forms.” More information is here.
April 10–12, 2024 (Birmingham, UK): I will be presenting the paper “Aphoristic Science: Poetry, Empiricism, and Short Forms in Nineteenth-Century Ecology” at the International Conference of Three Societies on Literature and Science (British Society for Literature and Science; European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts; Commission on Science and Literature). More information is here.
May 23–26, 2024 (Chicago, IL): I will be presenting the paper “William James’s Anesthetic Reading: Open-ended Interpretation on Nitrous Oxide” at the American Literature Association. This will be part of the “Weird James” panel organized by the Henry James Society. I will also be chairing the panel “Emerson and William James,” which is co-sponsored by the William James Society and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society. More information is here.
See abstracts from my recent conference presentations here.