The USC Upstate Committee for Faculty Excellence has selected Dr. Colleen O’Brien, associate professor of English, as the 2014 winner of the Bank of America Annual Award for Faculty Scholarly and/or Creative Pursuits.
O’Brien has made substantial interdisciplinary and international contributions to the fields of American literature, history, American studies, and African American Studies. In the past three years alone, O’Brien has published one book, two book chapters, and four scholarly articles in some of the most competitive journals in American studies and American literature. She has also been awarded a Fulbright Research Chair in North American Studies at the University of Western Ontario, a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute grant, and a fellowship in the Mellon Foundation American Literatures Initiative — all since 2011.
O’Brien’s book, Race, Romance, and Rebellion: Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth-Century (University of Virginia Press, 2013), has already received international recognition from the British Association for American Studies.
As Ronald G. Walters, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, noted, O’Brien’s work uncovers under-examined materials from across a range of fields — philosophy, history, literature, journalism, politics, and letters—and brings these materials to bear to answer major questions about links between various reform movements in the 19th century.
“Part of my excitement about this line of analysis is that it helps reconsider a criticism some of us have made about white abolitionists — that they were unable to articulate clearly what a free, racially egalitarian society might look like,” Walters added. “Dr. O’Brien suggests that many African Americans and people of First Nations were able to do so, thanks in part to the circulation of people and ideas from the U.S., Haiti, Canada and elsewhere.”
Through this research, O’Brien is changing understandings of the nineteenth century by breaking down the barriers of race, gender, nation, and region and tracing the cross-boundary networks that shaped the foundations of the nineteenth century throughout the Americas.
Her second book, Metaphors of Heart’s Blood and Home, already in progress, explores the nineteenth-century concept of freedom rooted in land-ownership and agricultural self-sufficiency that spread throughout North and South America and emerged from African and Native American rhetoric about land and liberty.