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John Tresch
Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA 19104-6205)
Poet Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science

A book-length study of the role of science and technology in the life and writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s famous tales, delusional narrators recount gory scenes of murder, madness, and despair. Yet he also wrote in depth about science, technology, and certainty. Trained as an engineer at West Point, he published a seashell guidebook and wrote on daguerreotypes and cryptography. By the 1830s, the “American experiment” had acquired astonishing equipment powered by electricity and steam; audiences confronted theories of species change, convertible fluids, and the birth and death of stars. Yet the USA's lack of stable scientific institutions opened the way for confusion, controversy, and hoaxes. The proposed book sets Poe's life and work in the tumultuous spaces in which new knowledge was debated, from Richmond and Baltimore to Philadelphia and New York, revealing his unique combination of visionary romanticism, skepticism, and enthusiasm for new sciences and machines. It casts new light on both a fascinating author and a decisive period in American science and culture.

Project fields:
American Literature; History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine; U.S. History

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2017 – 5/31/2018