Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: Literary Criticism
Competition: US & Canada
Since the early 1990s, Nancy Easterlin has been among a handful of contemporary scholars active in exploring the implications of evolutionary social science for the study of literature. Associated with but distinct from practices in both Darwinian literary studies and cognitive approaches to literature, Ms. Easterlin's biocultural approach combines traditional methods of literary scholarship, principally historicism and interpretation, with findings and methods not typically applied to literary criticism and theory. Her research draws broadly on many fields, including anthropology, behavioral ecology, cognitive archaeology, cognitive neuroscience, and evolutionary, cognitive, developmental, and ecological psychology.
Articles in the popular press repeatedly identify the distinct nature of Ms. Easterlin's contribution to evolutionary-cognitive literary approaches. Darwinian literary criticism has been profiled in the 2001 valedictory issue of Lingua Franca, the 2002 New York Times Year in Review, Stephen Pinker's 2002 book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, the Summer 2003 issue of The Hudson Review, 2005 articles in The Boston Globe and The New York Times, and an August 2008 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. According to Harold Fromm, Ms. Easterlin has "established a role as an adversarial Darwinian who tries to demonstrate ways in which culture and artworks go against the Pleistocene drives that to some degree have misfitted us for contemporary life" (HR 2003). To Caleb Crane, she is the "doubting Thomas" of evolutionary literary criticism (LF 2001). Easterlin's reputation as the skeptic within the fold derives from her insistence that findings, models, and methods from science cannot, in literary criticism and theory, substitute for a nuanced understanding of how artworks develop and function within human cultures.
A faculty member in the Department of English at the University of New Orleans since 1991, Ms. Easterlin has taught over twenty courses in literature, literary theory, and composition. Her disciplinary specializations include British romanticism, prose fiction, and literary theory. She is a member of UNO's Women's Studies faculty.