Alexander Mazzaferro

Alexander Mazzaferro
Postdoctoral Researcher and Instructor for the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
5737 South University Avenue
Ph.D., Rutgers University, 2017
Teaching at UChicago since 2019


I am a scholar of early American literature (c. 1500-1865), working at the intersection of the history of science and the history of political thought. Broadly speaking, my work explores how key political concepts were shaped by the major epistemological and aesthetic shifts of the early modern period and Enlightenment. Taking a transatlantic and circum-Caribbean approach to this question, I revise Eurocentric intellectual histories by foregrounding the role that New World colonialism and its discontents played in the rise of modernity.

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago’s Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, where I am at work on a book manuscript entitled, No Newe Enterprize: The Innovation Prohibition and the New Science of Politics in the Colonial English Americas. The project rewrites the English colonization of the Americas in light of the fact that innovation was a prohibited activity and a pejorative synonym for rebellion in the early modern period. Reading eyewitness reportage on outbreaks of rebellion throughout seventeenth-century North America and the Caribbean, I argue that New World elites rehabilitated and then monopolized the right to innovate by applying the empirical methods of an emergent natural science to politics. In so doing, they installed innovation at the heart of modern theorizations of sovereignty and set it on the path to becoming the late-capitalist buzzword it is today.

I have previously held postdoctoral fellowships at the American Philosophical Society, where I served as team-lead for an ambitious digital humanities bibliography project, and Rutgers University, where I received my Ph.D. in English in 2017 with the support of a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. My research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation and the Library Company of Philadelphia, and I have had the opportunity to share it at workshops and conferences hosted by the First Book Institute, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and the Society of Early Americanists, where I was awarded the 2019 Essay Prize.

I am currently at work on several articles both related and peripheral to my book, including a co-edited critical forum on “The Epistemological Turn in Early American Studies,” a piece on Sir Francis Bacon, and essays on Olaudah Equiano and Nat Turner, which constitute first forays into a second project on Black Atlantic political thought.