University of Wisconsin–Madison

Monique Allewaert

Associate Professor

6131 Helen C. White Hall

18th- and 19th-Century American literatures, Colonial and Postcolonial Theory, Ecocriticism, Political Theory

Monique Allewaert

Degrees and Institutions

  • BA, English and Political Science, University of California, Irvine
  • MA, English, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • PhD, English, Duke University

Select Publications

  • “Delaney’s Fetish: An Atlantic Relational Materialism” in Ecological Form: System and Aesthetics in the Age of Empire eds. Nathan Hensley and Philip Steer.  Forthcoming with Fordham University Press, 2018.
  • “Insect Poetics: James Grainger, Personification, and  Enlightenments Not Taken.” Early American Literature. Volume 52, Number 2, 2017.
  • “The Geopolitics and Tropologies of the American Turn” in Turns of Event ed. Hester Blum. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, March 2016.
  • “Toward a Figurative Materialism: A Slight Manifesto.” English Language Notes Vol 51, No 2 (Fall/Winter 2013). 61-77.
  • Ariel’s Ecology:  Personhood and Colonialism in the American Tropics, 1760-1820 (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
  • “Under Water.” With Michael Ziser. American Literature Vol 84, No 2 (June 2012) 233-241.
  • “Swamp Sublime.: Ecological Resistance in the American Plantation Zone.” PMLA 123 (2008) 340-357.

Scholarship and Current Projects

Professor Allewaert’s research integrates literary analysis with political and environmental theory to contribute to an American studies that attends to the flows and structures of colonialism that shape the Western hemisphere. This hemispheric orientation of the field develops through sub- and supra-national frames and problematics in an effort to uncover understandings of personhood, community, and place that were etiolated by earlier organizations of the field. Her book Ariel’s Ecology (University of Minnesota, 2013) argues that in the American plantation zone human bodies were experienced and mythologized not as integrated political subjects but as bodies in parts. She investigates how this experience and mythology of the body shaped art forms of the period, particularly Anglo European and Afro American travel writing as well as Afro American oral stories and fetishes, considering also the implications of this experience of the body for personhood and political life.

Allewaert is currently working on a book tentatively titled Cut Up: Colonial Insectophilia and Enlightenment from Below, which explores an occluded colonial way of thinking the small and the partial.  Focusing on insects as paradigmatic micro-scale entities, this book examines the works and acts of Maria Sibylla Merian, René Réaumur, Pierre Maupertuis, Denis Diderot, James Thomson, the St. Dominguan maroon Makandal, James Grainger, Bryan Edwards, Lydia Sigourney, and Emily Dickinson (among others).  In so doing, the book aims to show how Enlightenment epistemological and ontological claims shifted in cultural peripheries, giving rise to a minoritarian Enlightenment tradition that can be recovered as a potential for contemporary environmentalism, politics, and aesthetics.

Allewaert has several other projects underway, ranging from a study of the collation of environmental and colonial catastrophes in the eighteenth century Americas to the import of figuration to early American studies. She also serves on the editorial board for American Literature and Resilience.


Allewaert’s scholarship and teaching derive from a belief that studying literature can inspire teachers and students to see and experience the world anew. Since receiving her Ph.D. from Duke in 2006, she has developed and taught over a dozen different courses in literature and theory that range from large lectures to small seminars, from introductory courses for freshmen and sophomores to graduate seminars. Her undergraduate classes include American Literary Cultures (English 243, the large lecture-format American Literature course), the Introduction to Poetry (currently being taught as an English 245 seminar), as well as courses on topics relating to Colonial American Literatures, Literature and the Environment, Literature and Science, Literary Figure (with particular attention to personification and synecdoche), and American Agencies.

Recent Books

  • Ariel's Ecology cover
    Monique Allewaert. Ariel’s Ecology: Personhood and Colonialism in the American Tropics, 1760-1820. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

    What happens if we abandon the assumption that a person is a discrete, world-making agent who acts on and creates place? This, Monique Allewaert contends, is precisely what occurred on eighteenth-century American plantations, where labor practices and ecological particularities threatened the literal and conceptual boundaries that separated persons from the natural world. Integrating political philosophy and ecocriticism with literary analysis, Ariel’s Ecologyexplores the forms of personhood that developed out of New World plantations, from Georgia and Florida through Jamaica to Haiti and extending into colonial metropoles such as Philadelphia. Allewaert’s examination of the writings of naturalists, novelists, and poets; the oral stories of Africans in the diaspora; and Afro-American fetish artifacts shows that persons in American plantation spaces were pulled into a web of environmental stresses, ranging from humidity to the demand for sugar. This in turn gave rise to modes of personhood explicitly attuned to human beings’ interrelation with nonhuman forces in a process we might call ecological. Certainly the possibility that colonial life revokes human agency haunts works from Shakespeare’s Tempestand Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws to Spivak’s theories of subalternity. In Allewaert’s interpretation, the transformation of colonial subjectivity into ecological personhood is not a nightmare; it is, rather, a mode of existence until now only glimmering in Che Guevara’s dictum that postcolonial resistance is synonymous with “perfect knowledge of the ground.”

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