Wesleyan portrait of Joel  Pfister

Joel Pfister

Olin Professor of English


Professor of English

Downey House, 294 High Street, 303

Director, Center for the Americas

Downey House, 294 High Street, 303

Professor, American Studies

Downey House, 294 High Street, 303

Coordinator, Caribbean Studies


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BA Columbia University
MA University of Sussex
MA University of London
PHD Yale University

Joel Pfister

Joel Pfister is Olin Professor of English and American Studies (his previous appointment was Kenan Professor of the Humanities).  He teaches a range of courses in American literature, American movies, and cultural analysis-social change studies. Over the past decade or so he has served as chair of American Studies (twice) and chair of English, and is now serving as Director of the Center for the Americas. His research has spanned and linked several fields:  19th- and 20th-century American literature; modern American drama; the history of the cultural formations of subjectivities, emotional life, the "psychological," and "individuality"; Native American-Euramerican power relations, especially "education" as racializing and class-identity formation; the postwar-to-postmodern history of Anglo-American cultural critique; and critical entertainment and movies studies.   Pfister's six books are: THE PRODUCTION OF PERSONAL LIFE: CLASS, GENDER, AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IN HAWTHORNE'S FICTION (Stanford University Press, 1991); STAGING DEPTH: EUGENE O'NEILL AND THE POLITICS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DISCOURSE (University of North Carolina Press, 1995, CHOICE "Best Academic Books of 1995" award); INDIVIDUALITY INCORPORATED: INDIANS AND THE MULTICULTURAL MODERN (Duke University Press, 2004); CRITIQUE FOR WHAT? CULTURAL STUDIES, AMERICAN STUDIES, LEFT STUDIES (Paradigm, 2006, Routledge, 2016); THE YALE INDIAN: THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ROE CLOUD (Duke University Press, 2009); and SURVEYORS OF CUSTOMS: AMERICAN LITERATURE AS CULTURAL ANALYSIS (Oxford University Press, 2016). He is also the co-editor of INVENTING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL: TOWARD A CULTURAL HISTORY OF EMOTIONAL LIFE IN AMERICA (Yale University Press, 1997).  And he has published articles or reviews in a wide range of journals, including AMERICAN QUARTERLY, JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES, COMPARATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES, AMERICAN LITERARY HISTORY, AMERICAN LITERATURE, YALE JOURNAL OF CRITICISM, NOVEL, LEVIATHAN, STUDIES IN LINGUISTICS AND LITERATURE, JOURNAL OF ENGLISH AND GERMANIC PHILOLOGY, AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, REVIEWS IN AMERICAN HISTORY, JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES, and TECHNOLOGY IN SOCIETY.  Pfister has received several fellowships, such as an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship, a Rockefeller fellowship (in residence at the Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy), and a Mellon fellowship.  He has held visiting professorships in Europe and Asia: Visiting Professor of North American Studies at the John F. Kennedy Institute of North American Studies, Graduate School, Freie Universität, in Berlin, Germany, spring/summer 2011; Lecturer of American Studies in the West-China Faculty Enhancement Program in American Studies (co-sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the China Association for the Study of American Literature, convened at Northwest University in Xi'an China, taught faculty from western China and Tibet), July 2012; Visiting Professor of Anglophone Studies at the Université de Caen Normandie in France, spring 2018; and Visiting Professor of the Humanities at the Università degli Studi di Macerata in Italy, spring 2019. He has lectured in many countries.  The diverse colleges, universities, and centers at which he has given "invited lectures" include Rothermere American Institute Oxford University, Cambridge University, Institute of U.S. Studies London University, King's College London University, York University, Nottingham University, Sussex University, University of Copenhagen, Odense University, Aarhus University, Université d'Orléans, Tel Aviv University, Nanjing University, Reitaku University, Centro Studi Americani (Rome), Institut für England- und Amerikastudien Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main, Futures of American Studies Institute Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, Colby College, University of Illinois Unit for Criticsm and Interpretive Theory (Urbana-Champaign), University of Wisconsin, Society of Fellows University of Chicago, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University American Studies Program, Center for American Studies Columbia University, Society of Fellows in the Humanities Columbia University, University of Maryland (College Park), Baruch College CUNY, Commonwealth Center for the Study of American Culture College of William and Mary, and Willamette University.  

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

Fall 2019: Monday, 3:00-5:00, Downey House 303


Fall 2019
ENGL 203A - 01
American Literature on Fire

ENGL 203A - 02
American Literature on Fire

Spring 2020
AMST 204 - 01
Saving America from Itself?

AMST 315 - 01
Entertaining Social Change