College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

Augusta Rohrbach

Associate Professor

Augusta Rohrbach



(PhD, Columbia)
I am a native New Yorker—born and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan. My first job took me to Baltimore MD (UMBC). Before coming to WSU, I held teaching appointments at Oberlin College, Harvard and Brown Universities.



In addition to Truth Stranger than Fiction: Race, Realism and the U.S. Literary Marketplace (Palgrave 2002), my essays have appeared in American Literature, Callallo, International Journal of Philosophy, New England Quarterly, Pedagogy, Prospects, and Textual Cultures as well as Prophets of Protest edited by John Stauffer and Tim McCarthy (Free Press 2005), Critical Essays on The Bondswoman's Narrative, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Hollis Robbins (Basic Books, 2003), Pictures and Progress, edited by Shawn Smith and Maurice Wallace (Duke UP 2012), and The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volume 6: The American Novel 1870-1940, edited by Priscilla Wald and Michael A. Elliot. NY: Oxford (2014). Visit Augusta Rohrbach's website for a complete bibliography.


ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

I am the Editor of ESQ. In that capacity, I have initiated " Year in Conferences, " a group-authored "report from the field at the conference level. An ongoing feature for ESQ, "The Year in Conferences" brings together graduate students from across the country.


Research Interests

My research interests include a range of concerns involving U. S. literature and culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. My first book, Truth Stranger than Fiction: Race, Realism and the U. S. Literary Marketplace (Palgrave 2002), shows the influence that nineteenth-century African American literature had on 20th century American mainstream texts by using the lens of business history to reread literary history. My second book, Thinking Outside the Book (UMass Press, 2014), grew out of my interest, first explored in Truth Stranger than Fiction, in the relationship between race, market and gender—an area I felt went under-examined in my first book—as these issues help re-orient the study of the book as text and the book as work. Ultimately I leverage a series of 19th century case studies to understand current trends in 21st century new media, themes that take center stage in my third book project, tentatively titled "The Gallows Diary of Mary Surratt."


Undergraduate Courses

I routinely take my research into the classroom and enjoy testing out new material. In teaching the critical skills of close reading through a knowledge of genre and historical context, I tend to emphasize the circulation of ideas through the material manifestations of culture. Click here to see a few sample syllabi:


Graduate Teaching Interests

I regularly teach courses that focus on the intersections of race, gender, media, material culture and literary history in the 19th and 20th Century U.S. Because I ask students to use a wide range of source material, I like to focus on methodology as a way of understanding both the interpretation and the interpretative process. Perhaps because I came from a background of philosophy—I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate at the New School for Social Research and began graduate school in philosophy—I have always concerned myself with not only what we do, but why and how we do the things we do in a literary classroom. Click here to see a few sample syllabi:


Continuing Education and Digital Humanities Projects

After attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, I have now undertaken several digital projects, a few of them collaboratively.

Reading With the Stars:
Together with colleagues teaching Emerson in classrooms across the country, I piloted the use of a "deep zoom widget" called Highbrow designed by Reinhard Engels of Harvard University. Through this work we created an accessible and active archive student annotations of key Emerson text for future classroom use.

Here at WSU, I worked with David Tagnani to incorporate "Highbrow" into ENGL 372, a reading course required by the major that focuses on the Transatlantic 19th century. We wrote about our experiences in a post for ProfHacker.

Also at WSU, in "Literary History Becoming Digital" a graduate seminar offered in 2011, we built Digital Emerson: A Collaborative Archive.


Current Projects

Together with Sarah Waddle and a team of computer science students lead by JiJun Tang of the University of South Carolina, I am building "Trifles: A Game of Social Justice"—an interactive game based on the play by Susan Glaspell of the same name. This new project, begun while at the NEH-sponsored Digital Humanities High-Powered Computer Institute this summer, leverages skills associated with literary studies to teach students how to convert details into facts and finally into key pieces of evidence. In a preliminary survey I conducted regarding its potential classroom use, faculty from across the country identified the game as a valuable component to the study of gender, history, justice, legal theory, literature, sociology, and visual persuasion. Click here to learn more about this project:

My third book, The Gallows Diary of Mary Surratt, Presidential Assassin, looks specifically at how new media is intervening in and ultimately reorienting the way we understand the past. Little scholarly attention has been given to the first woman executed in the United States; examining the archive produced around Surratt's involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln will bring together study of law, literature, race, gender and region, yielding a book that is both a meditation on this tumultuous period in the United States as well as on the meaning and production of this fascinating archive. The Surratt project speculates on new ways to render archival sources using an array of contemporary collecting and presentation tools from Google image search to Polyvore, Tumblr and Instagram. My attention is rapt by the way her archive, as it continues to assemble even today, forces the kind of intellectual quandry that we face in our hyper-mediated age. This is a new kind of LIVING history—one we can leverage more productively as teachers and learners. This project harnesses the archival powers of the internet to explore the ways in which what we think about the past, and perhaps more accurately, to explore what we use to think about the past, how it changes, and what those changes might mean.












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