Joel Childers


I am a Lecturer in the Department of English at UC Berkeley, and a volunteer instructor at Mount Tamalpais College, formerly the Prison University Project, at San Quentin State Prison. 

I received my PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2021, where I wrote the dissertation that has become my current book project, The Reach of Criticism: Poetry and Historical Thinking from Romanticism to the Present (under advance contract with Stanford University Press). This book queries the overlapping ambitions of literary criticism and the humanistic social sciences as they bear on an expanding British Empire. It argues that Romantic-era critics invented new ways of reading old texts and, in doing so, shaped the interpretive methods we continue to employ in the literary humanities today. 

As a scholar, my specialization is Romantic intellectual culture. Here, I am especially interested in the history and practice of criticism, and in the shifting concepts of race, ethnicity, and world religion throughout this period, most often in the context of Britain’s (settler) colonies in the Americas and South Asia. The Romantic period’s fascination with historical literary forms, however, has let me research earlier periods as well—from allegory in Greek antiquity to romance in the Christian and Islamic Middle Ages. I consider a broad awareness of pre- and early modern literature a necessary component of Romantic scholarship. 

As a teacher, my courses are wide-ranging, though usually with a focus on poetry and poetics. At Berkeley, I have taught seminars on the Enlightenment; the history of romance and (settler) colonialism; and the British New Left. I also regularly teach Reading and Composition courses on various topics, including political cinema, modernist short fiction, and wartime poetry. 

An article drawn from my book project can be found in New Literary History 52.1, and an earlier essay on phenomenology in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Sartre’s Being and Nothingness can be found in Philosophy and Literature 37.2


Selected Publications

"The Romance of Criticism," New Literary History 52.1 

"Proust, Sartre, and the Idea of Love," Philosophy and Literature 37.2


421 Wheeler Hall

Office Hours

By appointment