Shirley Samuels named the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies

On Oct. 17th, Cornell University’s Board of Trustees appointed Prof. Shirley Samuels as Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies. 

This professorship, inaugurated by Prof. Glenn Altschuler in 1998, honors the Litwins’ passion for the study of literature, culture, and American heritage.

Earning her B.A, M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, Samuels began her career as an Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University in 1985. In 1986, she started teaching in what is now Cornell’s Department of Literatures in English. After serving in different administrative roles, such as Chair of History of Art and the Flora Rose House Professor, in 2017, she was appointed Director of Undergraduate Studies for American Studies and in 2021 she became Director of American Studies. 

Samuels will teach American Voices: Performing America (ENGL 1158) in the upcoming spring semester, which focuses on drama. 

Samuels’ work extends beyond the scope of the classroom as she has written or edited multiple books such as Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War. Her current work in progress is titled “Haunted by the Civil War: Cultural Testimony in the Nineteenth-Century United States.”

“I’ve always worked at a boundary, or set of boundaries, that includes literature, politics, history, visual culture, photography,” she notes. Samuels’ focus on the Civil War involves noticing its similarity to the current political divide in the United States. “I have the sense of being haunted by the resurgence of polarization in the United States resembling the north south polarization during the Civil War.” In developing arguments about the nineteenth century she notices, “Not only the resistance to ending the practice of slavery but also the resistance to thinking about different ideologies in the United States. It seems that almost 200 years later, we’re still doing that,” she adds. 

The professorship will be effective Jan 1, 2023.

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Shirley Samuels