Ellen Samuels

Position title: Professor Emerita of English and Gender and Women's Studies

Email: ejsamuels@wisc.edu

Disability studies, feminist/queer theory, 19th-21st century American literature; African American studies; body theory; visual culture; creative writing; autobiography and memoir
Ellen Samuels

Degrees and Institutions:

  • B.A., English and Women’s Studies, Oberlin College
  • M.F.A., Creative Writing, Cornell University
  • Ph.D., English, University of California-Berkeley

Selected Publications:

Scholarship and Current Projects:

Ellen Samuels is a founding member of the UW Disability Studies Initiative and current Faculty Director of the Open House Gender Learning Community. Her critical work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Feminist Disability Studies, GLQ, MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States, The Disability Studies Reader, and Amerasia. Her awards include the Ed Roberts Postdoctoral Fellowship in Disability Studies, the Catherine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship, and two Lambda Literary awards. She is working on two new books, Double Meanings: Representing Conjoined Twins and Body of Mine: A Memoir in Genetic Sequence.

Double Meanings: Representing Conjoined Twins analyzes representations of conjoined twins in literature, film, history, and popular culture from the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. The guiding principle for this project is to reverse the sensationalism usually attached to public discussions of conjoinment by turning the lens of fascination back onto the cultural meanings attached to representations of such twins. I explore what these representations tell us about the workings of power in different cultural settings, especially as conjoinment intersects with more familiar identities of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Thus I turn away from broad philosophical questions to explore such historically-located areas of inquiry as colonialism, enslavement, sexual science, modern consumerism, and globalization.


GWS 310: The Cultural Politics of Illness
GWS 340: Queer Bodies
GWS 370: Topics in Gender and Disability
GWS 445: The Body in Theory
ENG 407: Creative Nonfiction Workshop
ENG 245: Literature and Disability
GWS/ENG 737: Feminist Disability Studies
ENG 971: The Body in 19th-Century American Literature

Recent Books:

Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race. New York University Press, 2014.

Combining literary analysis, legal history, and visual culture, Ellen Samuels traces the evolution of the “fantasy of identification”—the powerful belief that embodied social identities are fixed, verifiable, and visible through modern science. From birthmarks and fingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this fantasy has circulated between cultural representations, law, science, and policy to become one of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of modern society.

Recent Books

  • Samuels, Ellen. Hypermobilities. The Operating System, 2021. Print.

    Hypermobilities is a verse-memoir in haiku, written over two years of intense engagement with the medical system. Samuels composed these poems in her head while strapped down within MRI machines, in the infusion center with IV needles snaking her arms, waiting and waiting in white-walled rooms. They are necessarily short, to be written by memory without pen or screen. A selection of these poems eventually formed into this collection, named after the hallmark sign of her genetic condition: joint hypermobility.

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