Russ Castronovo

Russ Castronovo
Jean Wall Bennet Professor of English and American Studies (2002)
7133 Helen C. White Hall
(608) 263-7467
E-mail Russ Castronovo
American literature, African American literature, American Studies, cultural theory and popular culture

Degrees and Institutions

PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz
BA, University of California, Berkeley

Selected Publications

  • Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014);
  • Beautiful Democracy:  Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2007); 
  • Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); 
  • Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); 
  • Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, co-edited with Dana Nelson (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); 
  • Aesthetics and the End(s) of American Cultural Studies: Special Issue of American Literature, co-edited with Chris Castiglia (forthcoming). 
  • Plus articles in The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, ELN, Critical Inquiry, boundary 2, American Literary History, New Literary History, American Literature, PMLA on figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, Harriet Jacobs, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


After finishing up Propaganda 1776, a book that examines the connections between communications and democracy in early America, I’ve embarked on a project about conservatism.  It strikes me that liberal academics (myself included) know very little about conservative ideology and its relationship to literary production, meaning, and circulation.  So far, my scope is broad, and I’m reading everything from Edmund Burke (Reflections on the Revolution in France and Letters on a Regicide Peace) to Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged).

My initial work on this topic is taking shape as a talk/essay entitled, “Sex and the Conservative Girl.”  Stay tuned:  I’m in the early stages of this work and I’ll hope to provide sharper definitions in the coming months.

Personal Statement

I am interested in the uses of literature in forming critical citizenship. In my classes, this interest entails a commitment to analytic exchange and dialogue, collective interpretation, and interdisciplinary pursuits of knowledge. My classes seek to implement this approach by ranging across topics such as modern critical theory, popular culture, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, propaganda, and the political novel.


Recent Books

  • Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America

    Russ Castronovo

    Oxford University Press


    • Upends traditional understandings of early American literary culture
    • Advances a counter-intuitive argument for the importance of propaganda in the founding era
    • Offers new perspectives on figures like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine
  • The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century American Literature

    Russ Castronovo, Ed.

    Oxford University Press


    How do we approach the rich field of nineteenth-century American literature? How might we recalibrate the coordinates of critical vision and open up new areas of investigation? To answer such questions, this volume brings together 23 original essays written by leading scholars in American literary studies. 

  • Book Cover for "Beautiful Democracy"

    Beautiful Democracy: Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era

    Russ Castronovo

    University of Chicago Press


    Are aesthetic experiences always a social good? Could aesthetics also inspire violent crime, working-class unrest, and racial murder? To answer these questions, Russ Castronovo turns to those who debated claims that art could democratize culture - civic reformers, anarchists, novelists, civil rights activists, and college professors - to reveal that beauty provides unexpected occasions for radical, even revolutionary, political thinking.

  • Book Cover for "Materializing Democracy"

    Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics

    Russ Castronovo & Dana Nelson, Eds.


    For the most part, democracy is simply presumed to exist in the United States. It is viewed as a completed project rather than as a goal to be achieved. Fifteen leading scholars challenge that stasis in Materializing Democracy. They aim to reinvigorate the idea of democracy by placing it in the midst of a contentious political and cultural fray, which, the volume’s editors argue, is exactly where it belongs.

  • Book Cover for "Necro Citizenship"

    Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States

    Russ Castronovo

    Duke University Press


    In Necro Citizenship Russ Castronovo argues that the meaning of citizenship in the United States during the nineteenth century was bound to - and even dependent on - death. Deploying an impressive range of literary and cultural texts, Castronovo interrogates an American public sphere that fetishized death as a crucial point of political identification.

  • Book Cover for "Fathering the Nation"

    Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom

    Russ Castronovo

    University of California Press


    Fathering the Nation examines competing expressions of national memory appearing in a wide range of mid-nineteenth-century artifacts, including slave autobiography, classic American fiction, monumental architechture, myths of the Revolution, proslavery writing, and landscape painting. While these images, icons, and fictions attempt to present an ordered, inspiring narrative of America, they also tell other stories that disrupt the nation.