David Rosen Wins Prestigious James Russell Lowell Prize

Top MLA Honor Awarded for Book on Surveillance, Literature, and Personhood

Hartford, CT, December 17, 2014 – The James Russell Lowell Prize is seen by many as a lifetime achievement award for scholars of literature at large research universities. David Rosen, professor of English and chair of the English Department, teaches at a small liberal arts college and still has a long career ahead of him. So when he opened his email one morning and learned that he had won, his reaction was mostly one of surprise.

Rosen and co-author Aaron Santesso, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication, won the prize for their 2013 book, The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood. Rosen and Santesso met when each was doing a one-year stint at Wesleyan University. They realized that their areas of interest had some overlap and began collaborating on this book.

The Watchman in Pieces explores how ideas about personhood and surveillance have evolved together over the last 500 years. In this history, literature has played a major role, as both a record of, and laboratory for, changing beliefs. Rosen and Santesso’s primary claim is that the ideas about liberal personhood in literature make it possible for citizens to participate in an environment where they are being watched and responding to that surveillance.

Literature’s influence on modern conceptions of self and privacy run deep, they write. In Samuel Warren’s and Louis Brandeis’s pioneering arguments for the right to privacy, they not only follow reasoning originally laid out in Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, but quote Wordsworth directly.

The Lowell Prize is awarded each year to an outstanding book by a member of the Modern Language Association. In its 45 year history, only once before has the prize gone to a scholar from a small college: in 2000, to Smith College’s Ann Rosalind Jones. Otherwise, the list of past winners is dominated by Research I universities. Though this added to Rosen’s level of surprise when he won, he sees this prize as an indication of what’s possible at Trinity.

Rosen’s win is the latest in a string of prestigious awards awarded to faculty members in Trinity’s English Department. This fall, Chris Hager, associate professor of English, was selected as the winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize for Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing. In 2012, Ciaran Berry, assistant professor of English, won a Whiting Writers’ Award. Rosen said this streak shows that Trinity’s faculty is doing work on par with “the Yales and Harvards of the world.”

“Everyone in this department is doing really good work on the level of the best departments anywhere,” he said.

Rosen will accept the Lowell Prize at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January 2015.