Kathleen Donegan

Associate Professor, Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Writing

Kathleen Donegan (Ph.D. American Studies, Yale University) writes and teaches about literature and culture in early America, from New World encounters through the first decades of the republic.  She is the author of Seasons of Misery: Catastrophe and Colonial Settlement in Early America (Penn, 2014), a book about the deeply unsettling history of early English colonial settlement in Native America.  It investigates how an acute relationship between suffering and violence in those crisis-ridden outposts produced a discourse of catastrophe – a literature of chaos and misery through which American coloniality can be understood anew.  Donegan's current book project is a narrative history entitled "On the Edge of Riot: A Story of Cruelty and Resistance in the British West Indies."  It recounts two separate trials in which an enslaver was twice charged with cruelty, and was twice acquitted.  The trials, occurring in 1810 and 1817, happened on the small island of Nevis, but their ramifications stretched to around the Atlantic world. They mark the time after the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the British West Indies as one of intensifying conflict, where both enslavers and enslaved knew their world was changing. 

In addition to surveys on early American literature, Donegan teaches courses on colonial Caribbean studies; early American women writers; captivity, slavery and piracy; the colonial Atlantic world; and racial formation in early America.  She also offers writing courses on the craft of the critical essay, and on narrative practice in scholarly writing.  In 2015, Donegan’s history of the Plymouth colony was featured in PBS’s The American Experience The Pilgrims: A Documentary History (dir. Ric Burns). She is the recipient of the Richard Beale Davis Award from Early American Literature, as well as Berkeley's Distinguished Teaching Award, President’s Chair Fellowship, Hellman Fellowship, and Innovation in Teaching Award.  From 2016-2021, Donegan served as Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities.  In 2019, she was named the Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Writing.  For the academic year 2021-2022, she was the Fletcher Jones Foundation Scholar at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Current Research: 

Professor Donegan is currently engaged in two new projects.  One, The Spectral Plantation: The Other Worlds of Slavery, is about psychic modes of departure within the plantation complex.  The other, Cast Away in the New World, is about colonial shipwreck narratives.

Selected Publications


"What Island is This?: Henry Neville's Isle of Pines and the Problem of Plantation," The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation (forthcoming).

"Chaos History: A Roundtable on Kathleen Donegan's Seasons of Misery," Common-Place (Winter, 2015).

"The Bonds of Immunity."  The William and Mary Quarterly 70.4 (2013): 813-817.

"What Happened In Roanoke: Ralph Lane's Narrative Incursion."  Early American Literature 48, no. 2 (2013): 285-314.  Winner, Richard Beale Davis Prize.

 "Keyword: Catastrophe."  Early American Literature 46, no. 3 (2011): 603-606.     

 “True Relations and Critical Fictions:  The Case of the Personal Narrative in Colonial American Writing.” In A Companion to the Literatures of Colonial America, edited by Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer.  Malden, MA: Blackwell (2005): 446-63. 

 “ ‘As Dying, Yet Behold We Live’: Catastrophe and Interiority in Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.” Early American Literature 37, no. 1 (2002): 9-37. 

Papers Delivered and Selected Media 

"Just All As One: Social Aesthetics and the Plantation Assemblage," American Comparitive Literature Association, Utrecht, Netherlands (2017).

"Fear of Bad Spirits: Obi and Quakerism in the Early Caribbean," Religious Affections Conference, Huntington Library (2017).

"What Island is This?: Literary Fantasy and the Problem of Plantation," Yale University (2016).

"The Air of Truth: Plantation Emotions and the Staging of Reform,"  SEA/OIEACH conference (2015).

The Pilgrims: A Documentary History, featured, dir. Ric Burns, PBS/BBC, (2015).

“The Deep Story of the Mayflower Pilgrims,” On Point with Tom Ashbrook, NPR, (Nov. 18, 2015).

"Colloquy with Kathleen Donegan:  Seasons of Misery: Catastrophe and Colonial Settlement," American Studies Association (2014).

"An Untamed Wilderness: Puritans, Pequots, and the Work of Memory," Fairfield, CT (2014).

"Things That Seemed Incredible: The Starving Time at Jamestown,"  The Ohio State University (2014).

"A Lecture of Misery:  History as Abjection at Jamestown,"  Columbia University (2013).

"Roundtable: Cristobal Silva's Miraculous Plagues: Epidemilogy and Early New England Narrative,"  Society of Early Americanists (2013).

"A Particular Horror: Charlotte Smith and the New World Gothic," Early Caribbean Society (2012).

"Sugar, Capital, Combustion: The Plots of Richard Ligon's The True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados," American Studies Association (2012).

"Mapping the Coloniality of Power: Jose David Saldivar's Trans-Americanity," UC Berkeley (2012).

"'The Sum of All I Know': Richard Ligon's The True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados," Early Caribbean Society (2011).

"Narrative Practice: Writing Between the Lines," American Studies Association (2011).

"Bringing in the Dead: William Bradford's Double Accounting," Society of Early Americanists Conference, Philadelphia (2011).

"Theory/ Experiment / Proof," UC Berkeley (2011).

"Keyword: Catastrophe," American Studies Association, San Antonio, Texas (2010).

"Race and Revision in Early America," American Literature Association, San Francisco (2010).

"Spectacular Bodies,"  Early American Borderlands Conference, St. Augustine, Florida (2009).

“Fantasy Island: Going Native on Henry Neville’s Isle of Pines,”  Society of Early Americanists Conference, Hamilton, Bermuda (2008).

 “Rumors from Roanoke: Or, How to Tell a True War Story,” William and Mary Quarterly and U.S.C-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute Annual Workshop:  Writing Early American History, San Marino (2008).

“The Cries of Our Sick Men:  Jamestown and the Discourse of Misery,” Faculty Colloquium, University of California, Berkeley (2007).

“True Relations and Critical Fictions: Colonial Personal Narratives,” American Origins Seminar, U.S.C.-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, San Marino (2004).

 “Scare Able to Bury their Dead: The Surprising History of Unearthed Bones at Plymouth Plantation,” Organization of American Historians, Memphis (2003).

“Roundtable: Eloquence is Power,” American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Annual Conference (ASECS), Long Beach (2003).

“Cast Upon an Unknown Land: Some Uses of Trauma in Colonial Settlement Narratives,” American Studies Association, Houston (2002).

“Rendering Disaster as Deliverance: The Remarkable Relation of Jonathan Dickinson’s Florida Shipwreck,” American Literature Association, Long Beach (2002).

“Cast Away in the New World:  Writing, Catastrophe, and the Settlement of British North America,” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Boston (2002).

 “Writing American Lives,” Early Ibero-Anglo Americanist Summit, Tuscon (2002).


Wheeler Hall, room 440

Office Hours

Wednesdays, 10:00-12:00