English Professor’s Book Takes Award for 18th-Century Studies

April 4, 2017

Literature Incorporated: The Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650-1850 (University of Chicago Press, 2016) by John O’Brien, Associate Professor of English and the NEH Daniels Family Distinguished Teaching Professor, has been awarded the Louis Gottschalk Prize, presented annually &dquo;for an outstanding historical or critical study on the 18th century” by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. The Committee evaluation noted that, “John O’Brien’s Literature Incorporated is a widely-ranging examination of the literary and legal history of the corporation in Britain and America. O’Brien’s nuanced and deeply researched blend of historical and literary analysis covers such topics as insurance, finance, slavery, and the novel across both sides of the Atlantic. Literature Incorporated offers new perspectives on well-studied topics such as Locke, Smith, and mercantilism while presenting important insights on how we have come to view corporations today.”

Long before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and modern debates over corporations as people, these organizations already stood between the public and private as both vehicles for commerce and imaginative constructs based on groups of individuals. O’Brien explores how this relationship played out in economics and literature, two fields that gained prominence in the same era.

Covering authors such as John Locke, Eliza Haywood, Harriet Martineau and Edgar Allan Poe, each chapter is oriented around a type of corporation reflected in their works, such as insurance companies or banks. By revealing the intricate ties between literary models and economic concepts, Literature Incorporated shows how the business corporation has shaped understanding of our social world and ourselves.

Courtesy Anne Bromley, Senior Writer, University Communications