Josephine McDonagh

Josephine McDonagh
Walker 403
Ph.D., University of Southampton, 1989
Teaching at UChicago since 2017
Research Interests: 19th century British literature| Politics of literary expression


My research and teaching focus on nineteenth-century British literature, colonialism, and the politics of literary expression. I am interested in the intersections between literature and other disciplines in the nineteenth century, notably political economy, the law, and history, and am also interested in cultures of print in both local and global contexts, and the circulation of people, ideas, and things. My work ranges across a wide range of writers and print forms, and has tackled a number of themes: the organisation of knowledge at different historical moments and contexts, biopolitics, violence, family politics, modernity, space, population, and mobility. I have published monographs on Thomas De Quincey, George Eliot and on ideas about child murder in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British culture.

My current work is on migration and nineteenth-century British literature. I am writing a book entitled ‘Literature in a Time of Migration’ which explores the ways in which literature both responded to, and helped to shape, a transcontinental migratory culture during a time of mass emigration from Britain to settler colonies. In this project I read literary works as part of a rich body of printed texts about migration and moving. Nineteenth-century print was awash with moving: emigration pamphlets, parliamentary papers, gazetteers, maps, newspapers, magazines devoted to the business of emigration, books on natural history of the colonies and on technologies of transportation, on population and the political economy of colonialism. Considering literary texts in this company allows me to propose some new ways of formulating the spatial regimes of nineteenth-century fiction, and also to explore some of the questions raised by global migration today.

Recently I have been involved in an international research network that explored commodity culture in the British colonial world. In this we focused on the transformations of local cultures in the nineteenth century, especially in the global south, in the light of colonial commodity exchange. A volume of essays from this project will be published later this year. I have also been thinking about opium as a global commodity, whose associated technologies of cultivation, communication (largely steam driven), economic exchange (often illicit), military power, and individual and national freedoms, shaped social life in regions across the world. Yet it also provided writers and artists such as Thomas De Quincey with a radical new sensorium which refashioned elements of western cultural production. I am editing (with Briony Wickes) a special issue of Literature and History on ‘Writing Opium and the Opium Wars’ which explores opium in the context of transformations in commodity production, ‘free trade’, and militarisation that affected transnational contact worldwide.


Selected Publications

  • Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900 (Cambridge, 2003)
  • George Eliot (Northcote House Press/British Council, 1997)
  • De Quincey's Disciplines (Clarendon Press, 1994)
  • Commodities and Culture in the Colonial World (ed. with Supriya Chaudhuri, Brian Murray and Rajeswari Sunderrajan) (Routledge, 2017) 
  • Nineteeth-Century Radical Traditions (ed. with Joseph Bristow) (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)
  • Chales Dickens and the French Revolution (ed. with Colin Jones and Jon Mee) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 
  • 'A Genealogy of the Village,' in Commodities and Culture in the Colonial World (Routledge, 2017) 
  • 'Women Writers and the Provincial Novel: Cranford and the Culture of Annuals,' in Lucy Hartley ed., Palgrave History of British Women's Writing: Volume 6, 1830-1880. In press. Palgrave, 2017
  • 'Rethinking Provincialism in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Our Village to Villette,' Victorian Studies 55.3 (Spring 2013): 399-424
  • 'Imagining Locality and Affiliation: George Eliot's Villages,' in Blackwell Companion to George Eliot, ed. by Amanda Anderson and Harry Shaw. Basil Blackwell, 2013, pp.353-369
  • 'Place, Region and Migration,' in Oxford History of the Novel in English, vol. 3 1820-1880, ed. by Jenny Bourne Taylor and John Kucich. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp.361-377

2017-18 courses: 

Autumn 2017:

  • Reading Cultures I (undergraduate)
  • Moving and Being Moved: Mobility and Migration in Modernity (graduate). 

Spring 2018:

  • Introduction to Fiction (undergraduate)
  • George Eliot (undergraduate).