Elizabeth B. Bearden

Position title: Professor

Email: ebearden@wisc.edu

7147 Helen C. White Hall

Early modern prose and poetry, Reception of Antiquity, Comparative Literature, formal and philosophical approaches to literary study, Disability Studies

Degrees and Institutions

  • Ph.D. Comparative Literature, New York University, 2006.
  • M.A. Comparative Literature, New York University, 2004.
  • A.B. Comparative Literature, magna cum laude, Princeton University, 1998.


Elizabeth Bearden CV

“Bearden’s first book, The Emblematics of the Self: Ekphrasis and Identity in Renaissance Imitations of Greek Romance, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2012. Her second book, Monstrous Kinds: Body, Space and Narrative in Renaissance Representations of Disability, was recently published in the University of Michigan Corporealities: Discourses of Disability series in 2019 and was the winner of the Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities. She has published articles in PMLAJEMCS, Ancient Narrative Supplementum,  Arizona Journal for Hispanic Cultural Studies, and E-Humanista/Cervantes. She has also directed a digital humanities project documenting the funeral of Sir Philip Sidney.”

Research and Teaching Interests

Bearden’s interests include early modern literature; the reception of antiquity; early modern genre debates; hermeneutics; Neolatin, Siglo de Oro and transatlantic literatures; translation studies; travel writing; the history of rhetoric; natural law, the beginnings of international human rights law, and Neostoic cosmopolitanism; the history of science and medicine; digital humanities; as well as theoretical approaches including New Formalism, narratology, New Historicism, visual culture studies, cultural studies, queer and gender studies, and New Philology. Bearden teaches a variety of grad and undergrad classes on early modern literature, rhetoric, the reception of antiquity, poetry and prose, word-image relations, and disability studies. She teaches graduate seminars on the Sidney Circle, Ekphrasis: word and image from antiquity to the Renaissance; Travel Writing, and disability in early modern literature. She also enjoys postmodern novels, science fiction and fantasy, the OuLiPo, cooking, fine wine, tandem cycling, Latin dancing, and Bolero, though she doesn’t claim to have expertise in these categories.

Recent Books

  • Corporealities: Discourses of Disability series, Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2019. ISBN: 978-0-472-13112-9

    Winner of the Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities.

    This project examines disability in the Renaissance in conduct books and treatises, travel writing, and wonder books. The cross-section of texts is comparative, putting canonical European authors such as Castiglione into dialogue with transatlantic and Anglo-Ottoman literary exchange. Its methodology takes a formal and philosophical approach to pre-modern formulations of monstrous bodies, spaces, and narratives, which continue to shape our understandings of disability today. Bearden’s work discerns the norming of early modern bodies in the discourse of the ideal and the natural, and it discovers alternative representations of embodiment that allow for variation and vulnerability. It overturns the assumption that “monstrosity” was relegated to the margins of the world from antiquity to the Renaissance, and it questions grand narratives propounding a progression of disability from supernatural marvel to medical specimen. I contend that these categories coexist and intersect, and that we can better understand early modern productions of disability by attending to the rich variety of monstrous bodies, spaces, and narratives that populate Renaissance texts.

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  • The Emblematics of the Self cover

    The ancient Greek romances of Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus were widely imitated by early modern writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Philip Sidney, and Mary Wroth. Like their Greek models, Renaissance romances used ekphrasis, or verbal descriptions of visual representation, as a tool for characterization. The Emblematics of the Self shows how the women, foreigners, and non-Christians of these tales reveal their identities and desires in their responses to the ‘verbal pictures’ of romance.

    Elizabeth B. Bearden illuminates how ‘verbal pictures’ enliven characterization in English, Spanish, and Neolatin romances from 1552 to 1621. She notes the capacity for change among characters — such as cross-dressed Amazons, shepherdish princesses, and white Mauritanians — who traverse transnational cultural and aesthetic environments. Engaging and rigorous, The Emblematics of the Self breaks new ground in understanding hegemonic and cosmopolitan European conceptions of the ‘other,’ as well as new possibilities for early modern identities, in an increasingly global Renaissance.

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