Timothy Harrison

Timothy Harrison
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
Rosenwald 426

In my research and teaching, I focus on how early modern literature intersects with other practices of knowledge production, including philosophy, theology, and the sciences. Much of my work probes how early modern authors developed verbal strategies adequate to experiences that resist comprehension.

My current book project, Impossible Experience: Consciousness and Natality in Early Modern England, examines the role played by imaginative literature in the development of the concept of consciousness. Somewhere between the work of René Descartes in the 1640s and the writings of John Locke in the 1690s, the modern concept of consciousness was born. Impossible Experience analyses the historical genesis of this concept by exploring the poetry and prose of John Milton and Thomas Traherne. These writers attempt to clarify the nature of consciousness by describing in first person terms what it is like for human thought to begin, by putting into words the moment when human life was first created or when embryonic awareness first flares into existence. Using the resources of the imagination to burrow behind what they see as the distorting influences of nurture, Milton and Traherne present coherent and sustained fantasies of human nature as it might exist in a state of radical natality. Their accounts of newly created, embryonic, and infant experience are, I argue, part of an attempt to address a blind spot built into consciousness, a new and inchoate concept the nature of which was being vigorously debated by contemporary theologians and philosophers. Milton and Traherne use poetry to do what other forms of discourse could not: to think consciousness qua consciousness. 

I am also working on another book project, John Donne’s Physics, co-authored with Elizabeth D. Harvey. This book explores the various forms of being in the world described and imagined in Donne’s poetry and prose. Bringing together the histories of the sciences, theology, the body, and the passions, we argue that Donne transforms the principles of physics into a phenomenological register, and that this mingling of lived experience and scientific fact addresses the epistemic anxieties of his age.

For a full CV and copies of my articles, please visit my academia.edu website




  • “John Donne, the Instant of Change, and the Time of the Body." English Literary History (ELH), forthcoming.
  • “Personhood and Impersonal Feeling in Montaigne’s ‘De l’exercitation.’” Modern Philology 114 (2016): 219-242.
  • “Adamic Awakening and the Feeling of Being Alive in Paradise Lost.Milton Studies 54 (2013): 29-58. Recipient of the Milton Society of America’s Albert C. Labriola Award.
  • “Embodied Resonances: Early Modern Science and Tropologies of Connection in Donne’s Anniversaries.” Co-authored with Elizabeth D. Harvey. ELH 80 (2013): 981-1008.

Book Chapters

  • “Confusion.” In Shakespeare and Emotion, ed. Katharine Craik (under contract with Cambridge University Press).


  • Joe Moshenska, Feeling Pleasures: The Sense of Touch in Renaissance England (Oxford, 2014). Reviewed for The Review of English Studies 66 (2015).
  • Mary Thomas Crane, Losing Touch with Nature: Literature and the New Science in 16th-Century England (Johns Hopkins, 2014). Reviewed for Modern Philology 113 (2016).


Ph.D., University of Toronto, 2014; Teaching at Chicago since 2014