Dr Erin Forbes

BA, MA(Prin.), PhD(Prin.)

  • BS8 1TB

Personal profile

Research interests

I study African American and U.S. literature of the long 19th century, always with an eye toward the relay between racialized formations of the human and the aesthetic. I have written on literary and historical figures including Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Benjamin Rush, Richard Allan, Absalom Jones, David Walker, Nat Turner, Thomas De Quincey, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Charles Chesnutt. I’ve also explored the transatlantic trade in enslaved people, late eighteenth-century yellow fever epidemics, crime writing in the popular periodical press, the penitentiary, maroonage, enslaved insurgency, and the Spiritualist movement.

My first book is Criminal Genius in African American and U.S. Literature, 1793-1845 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2024). This book locates creative genius on the plantation, in the swamp, and behind bars to better account for the agency of those constitutively excluded from the liberal project. By situating the rise of Romantic-era notions of the super-agent, or “genius” within the history of criminality’s associations with Blackness, I demonstrate that, within white supremacy, an aestheticized criminality has sometimes exceeded the work of racialized oppression to which it has so often been conscripted.

My current book project is provisionally entitled Reading the Nineteenth Century in Black, White and Green. It brings to gether environmental humanities and Black Humanities to challenge the idea that American environmentalism was forged exclusively by men like John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. This project identifies within literary history neglected strands of environmentalism across the long 19th-century, which emphasise race but were largely forgotten after the largest internal migration in U.S. history at the beginning of the 20th century. Chapters will focus on a range of authors including Phillis Wheatley (Peters), Maria Stewart, Edgar Allan Poe, William and Ellen Craft, and Herman Melville.

I earned my B.A. at Reed College and my M.A. and Ph.D. at Princeton University and, before coming to Bristol, was Associate Professor in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of Wyoming (USA).



I teach and lecture across the full range of the curriclum, including undergraduate units such as Literature- Enslavement-Liberation, African American Literature, Representations: This is (not) my America, Literature 1740-1900, American Revolutions, and Celebrity Cultures. At the MA level, I teach on the Black Humanites MA and the English MA units 'Animal Planet', 'Introduction to Literary Study', and 'The Gothic'.

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Centre for Black Humanities


  • Research interests: African American and U.S. literature of the long 19th- century; literature of enslavement; new materialisms; race and environment; Spiritualism; the penitentiary; American Enlightenment/American Gothic; Harriet Jacobs; Edgar Allan Poe


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