Caleb Smith

Professor of English

Address: LC 311
Phone: 203-432-0574
CV | Office hours
On leave Spring 2014

B.A., English, UC Berkeley 1999
Ph.D., English, Duke, 2005

Personal website

I teach American literature, very broadly defined, ranging from the early national period through the twentieth century. My courses include introductory sections and lectures in American literary history, a senior seminar on William Faulkner, and a graduate seminar on literature and power. In 2007 I worked with Professor Caryl Phillips to develop “The Literature of the Middle Passage,” a course on literature and the Atlantic slave trade that included a ten-day trip to Ghana.

My research explores the dream-life of power, or the relations between social imaginaries and legal institutions. My first book, The Prison and the American Imagination (Yale UP, 2009), is a cultural history of incarceration. It shows how imprisonment came to be understood according to a secular resurrection narrative—the inmate would pass through a ceremonial mortification to a legal and spiritual rebirth. In a second book, The Oracle and the Curse: A Poetics of Justice from the Revolution to the Civil War (Harvard UP, 2013), I turn from sites of punishment to scenes of judgment. Examining America's legal public sphere, I show how the invocation of “higher law” could seem to legitimate state violence, or to justify acts of principled disobedience, with the assent of moral communities.


--The Oracle and the Curse: A Poetics of Justice from the Revolution to the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013)

--The Prison and the American Imagination, Yale University Press (Yale UP 2009)

--“Harriet Jacobs among the Militants: Transformations in Abolition’s Public Sphere, 1859-1861” (Forthcoming in American Literature).

--“Detention without Subjects.Texas Studies in Literature and Language (September 2008).

--“Emerson and Incarceration.” American Literature (June 2006).

UNDERGRADUATE COURSES: American Literature: Civil War to the Machine Age; William Faulkner; The Literature of the Middle Passage; Introduction to American Literature

GRADUATE COURSE: Antebellum American Literature and Culture; Literary Studies and the Critique of Power