Dr Benjamin Pickford

Postdoctoral Fellow

Home Institution: University of Nottingham


Bio: Benjamin Pickford holds a PhD in American literature from the University of Nottingham. As well as being a postdoctoral fellow at IASH in 2016-17, he is the current Ralph Waldo Emerson Visiting Fellow at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. His work is concerned with the intersections between literature and economics, philosophy, and theology in nineteenth-century America.

Project: Capital in American Poetics: Late Nineteenth-Century Literary Theory as Economic Thinking

The nineteenth-century was the epoch of political economy in Europe. In the United States, however, no economic theory of note appeared between the Constitutional period and the professionalization of economics as a discipline at the end of the century. This project argues that the poetic practices of three nineteenth-century American authors—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Adams—constituted forms of economic thinking hitherto unrecognized by orthodox economic theory. Through modes of depersonalized authorship, these writers realized in literary form an impersonal and transcendental epistemological structure appropriate to capital’s decontextualization of labor and the conditions of circulation.