I am a Professor of English and the Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI) at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. Born in Cambridge, MA and educated at the University of Rochester (where I studied English, creative writing and classics) and Harvard University (PhD in English and American Literature and Language), I have taught at GW since 1994.
My research examines phenomena at once alien and intimate. Much of my scholarly and teaching energy has been directed towards exploring what monsters, foreigners, queers, inhuman forces and objects, and matter that won't stay put reveal about the cultures that dream, fear and desire them. My work on monsters has had an especially wide appeal, leading to a stint as an expert witness on a copyright lawsight involving the Pixar film Monsters Inc., a part in a History Channel documentary on dragons, and a consultant gig for a children's book on big monsters (as well as several scholarly books and essays). I've also worked on the multilingual literatures of the British archipelago and how they contest an easy narrative of the triumph of English; how queer theory, critical race studies and posthumanism might help us to better understand the texts and cultures of the Middle Ages, and how our contemporary moment might be transformed by that encounter; the history of antisemitism; the complexities of time and history when thought outside of easy progress narratives; and the complicated liveliness of what is supposed to be inanimate (with a special emphasis on the materiality of color and the veering force of the elements). Much of my current research brings to fruition a longtime engagement with the environmental humanities and ecological theory. I am a founding member of the MLA Forum on Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities and an active member of ASLE.
My book Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman won the 2017 Réné Welleck Prize for the best book in comparative literature. The project was generously funded by fellowships from the ACLS and the Guggenheim Foundation, and investigates the active and abiding companionship of our most seemingly inert substance. Research for this book brought me around the world: Salisbury Plain, London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Victoria (Australia), Bordeaux, and southwest Iceland.
I recently co-wrote a book called Earth with planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, published in the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series. With Lowell Duckert I edited a special issue of a special issue of the journal postmedieval on ecomaterialism. We collaborated on an edited collection on this same topic, Elemental Ecocriticism (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), which brings together ecotheorists with medieval, early modern and contemporary disciplines to rethink the possibilities offered by supposedly outmoded knowledge and stories. The book extends the collaborative invesitigation of more-than-green ecologies and active materialities instigated by Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green and to be continued in a third volume at the same press, Veer Ecology, a volume with thirty-one contributors ranging across disciplines and periods (forthcoming in early 2018). Currently in collaboration with Julian Yates I am at work on a project called "Noah's Arkive: Groundless Reading from the Beginning Until the End of Time."
A selection of my books and other publications may be accessed through this website. I founded the group blog In the Middle, where with my co-bloggers I write about medieval studies, activism, and the humanities more generally. Much of my work in progress also appears there. I am active on Twitter and believe strongly that all humanities scholarship must engage as diverse a public as possible.
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Super Short Biography
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is Professor of English and Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. His research examines strange and beautiful things that challenge the imagination, phenomena that seem alien and intimate at once. He is especially interested in what monsters, foreigners, queers, inhuman forces, objects and matter that won't stay put reveal about the cultures that dream, fear and desire them. Cohen is widely published in the fields of medieval studies, monster theory, posthumanism and ecocriticism.