Benjamin Reiss, PhD


Phone: 404-712-4263

Fax: 404-727-2605


Mailing Address:
N201A Callaway Center


I am a scholar of American literary and cultural history, with interests in connections between literature and medicine.  My current research project is a cultural history of sleep from the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century to the present.  I am interested in how sleep has become such a “problem” in contemporary culture: something in need of micro-management, medical attention, expert advice, and pervasive worry.    My tentative answers involve shifts in labor patterns, the standardization of time, the spread of caffeine and other stimulants, the rise of medical and scientific specialization, and changing notions of psychological development.  I’m drawing on documents in the history of medicine and science to trace changing patterns, and I’m using literary texts (by authors like Thoreau, Proust, Gilman, and Orwell) to explore subjective responses to these developments.  I’ve also published widely on American literature and culture, on authors including Emerson, Melville and Poe, and cultural figures from P.T. Barnum to Harry Houdini, and phenomena from minstrel shows and insane asylums to campus shootings.    And I’ve edited two books, on the history of the American novel and on disability studies as a field of concern in medicine and the humanities.

Education & Training:

  • B.A. in English, Oberlin College, High Honors, 1986
  • Ph.D. in English, University of California Berkeley, 1997


    Fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Antiquarian Society, Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Award to Louisiana Artists and Scholars

    Recent & Noteworthy Publications:


    Benjamin Reiss, “Sleeping at Walden Pond: Thoreau, Abnormal Temporality, and the Modern Body,” American Literature March 2013 (forthcoming).

    Benjamin Reiss, “The Springfield Somnambulist, or the End of Enlightenment in America,” Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of American Life 4, no. 2 (January 2004)


     Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, eds., Keywords in Disability Studies (New York University Press: forthcoming)

    Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby, and Benjamin Reiss, eds., The Cambridge History of the American Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

    Benjamin Reiss, “Campus Security and the Specter of Mental-Health Profiling,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 30, 2011

    Benjamin Reiss, “Madness After Virginia Tech: From Psychiatric Risk to Institutional Vulnerability,” Social Text 105 (Winter 2010): 25-44

    Benjamin Reiss, “From Affect to Disorder: Pills and Personality in the Age of DSM-III,” American Quarterly, March 2010

    Benjamin Reiss, Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

    Benjamin Reiss, “Bardolatry in Bedlam: Shakespeare, Psychiatry, and Cultural Authority in Nineteenth-Century America,” ELH 72 (Winter 2005): 769-797

    Benjamin Reiss, The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum’s America (Harvard University Press, 2001; repr. 2010)