Short Biography

These webpages bring together a little bit of information about me and my scholarly interests.

I was born in Cambridge, MA and educated at the University of Rochester, where I studied English, creative writing and classics. I completed a PhD in English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, where I also taught in History and Literature. For twenty years I was in the English Department at the Geroge Washington University, where I also served as chair. Right now I am the Dean of Humanities at Arizona State University as well as the co-president (with Stacy Alaimo) of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the largest and oldest organization for environmental humanities worldwide.

My research examines things that seem to be alien and intimate at the same time. Much of my work explores what monsters, misfits, foreigners, refugees, 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 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. I believe in collaboration and work hard to foster communities of shared endeavor that arrive at insights not easily gained through solitary scholarship.

I 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. My book Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman won the 2017 René Wellek 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.

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 continued in a third volume at the same press, Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking, with thirty-one contributors ranging across disciplines and periods (2017). Currently in collaboration with Julian Yates I am at work on a book called Noah’s Arkive: Towards an Ecology of Refuge. The project re-examines the master myth for the narration of climate change and argues against the attenuated versions we tend to repeat whenever we imagine a future of rising seas and drowned peoples, uncovering instead a rich and millennia-long counter history in which Noah’s resignation to an ark of exclusion and limited preservation is not celebrated but questioned, rethought, and often rebuked.

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 Dean of Humanities at Arizona State University and co-president with Stacy Alaimo of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the largest professional organization in the environmental humanities. His research examines strange and beautiful things that challenge the imagination, phenomena that are alien and intimate at the same time. Cohen is widely published in the fields of medieval studies, monster theory, and the environmental humanities. His book Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman received the 2017 René Wellek Prize for best book in comparative literature from the American Comparative Literature Association. In collaboration with Lindy Elkins-Tanton he co-wrote the book Earth, a re-examination of planet from the perspectives of a planetary scientist and a literary humanist. With Julian Yates he is co-writing Noah's Arkive: Towards an Ecology of Refuge