Matthew Boulette


Research Interests: 

long 19th century American literature, settler colonial capitalism and racial formation, gender and sexuality studies, history of medicine, psychotropy


Co-coordinator of the American Cultures Working Group, with Noah Hansen, 2016-present


“‘Law versus Appetite’: from Victimage to Menace in the Tropology of the ‘Cocaine Fiend’” – for a panel on “Cocaine and the Black Body,” organized by Dr. Douglas Flowe, at ASALH 2017


My dissertation covers four moments of ecstasy, each of which broke out of sync with U.S. settler chronicity from around 1821 to 1918: Shaker worship, fasting girls, opium dens, and peyote meetings. Each of these moments enfolds a kind of commons, or collects a scene of sensory-performative response. On such scenes, grouped sensoria may make a set of rules split off from state coercion. Linking up and disseminating each scene of ecstasy are various lines of contagion – appetitive, mimetic, sensorial, moral, and chemical, to name a few. This project’s archival research seeks to retrace those lines. Often that means studying the sociodiagnostic tools used by state agencies to profile contagion – e.g. public health documentation, administrative reports, and legislative actions. It also means reassembling the bodies of clinical expertise those agencies invoke, as well as the media through which they broadcast control. My goal throughout is to move between the structures of racial dispossession by which U.S. settler society secures its reproductive future and the vectors of ecstasy through which some found ways to evade, lag, suspend, or unsettle those structures.

Currently I am working on the third chapter, for now titled “Accumulating Transience: Toward an Epidemiology of the Opium Undercommons, 1870-1909.”

I came to Chicago after completing my BA in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. My senior honors thesis was titled “‘Annihilating themselves before God’: Sinners in Print, Visible Conversion, and Evangelical Affect in the Great Awakening.”


Teaching Experience: 

  • Lecturer for ENGL 26310, “Narrating Appetite in the Nineteenth Century” (Fall 2017)
  • CA for ENGL 26300 “The Literature of Disgust, Rabelais to Nausea” (Professor Zachary Samalin, Spring 2017)
  • CA for ENGL 10710, “Introduction to Fiction: Narrative, Violence and Justice” (Professor Julie Orlemanski, Fall 2016)
  • CA for ENGL 16500, “Shakespeare I: Histories and Comedies” (Professor Richard Strier, Winter 2016)