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: 

The Edge of Riot: A Story of Cruelty and Resistance in the British West Indies


Selected Publications


Seasons of Misery: Catastrophe and Colonial Settlement in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. **Honorable Mention MLA/Early American Literature Book Prize, 2016**

“A Case in Nevis, 1817,” J-19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (under revision).

“Not Dead Yet: Carrying History in a Song of Jamaica,” Small Axe 26.1 (March 2022): 55-68.

“Accident, Disaster, Trauma:  Shattered in Early America.” In The Cambridge Companion to Early American Literature, edited by Bryce Traister, 117-131. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021. 

“Bad Spirits: Facing Fear on the Plantation.” In Feeling Godly: Religious Affections in Early America, edited by Abram van Engen and Caroline Wigginton, 158-167. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2021.

“Rose.” Early American Literature 55.2 “Beyond Recovery” (2020): 293-301. 

“Moving Memories: The Puritans We Need.” American Literature 90.4 “Post-Exceptional Puritanism” (2018): 855-862. 

“Chaos History: A Roundtable on Kathleen Donegan’s Seasons of Misery: Catastrophe and Colonial Settlement in Early America.” Common-Place 15.2 (Winter 2015). (Includes short essays by Dennis Moore, Abram Van Engen, Kathleen Wilson, Sari Altschuler, Kathleen Donegan, and Karen Stolley.)

“The Bonds of Immunity” and “Response to Cristobal Silva.” The William and Mary Quarterly 70.4 (2013): 813-817, 839-840. 

“What Happened in Roanoke: Ralph Lane’s Narrative Incursion.” Early American Literature 48.2 (2013): 285-314. **Winner, Richard Beale Davis Prize for best article in Early American Literature, 2013**

Invited Lectures / Media

“A Case in Nevis, 1817,” UCLA Americanist Research Colloquium, 2023.

 “The Spectral Plantation: The Other Worlds of Slavery,” Henry E. Huntington Library, 2021.

“Failed Utopias: Jamestown, America’s Other Experiment,” Curbed, 2019.

“Imagining a New World,” First Lectures, Golden Bears Orientation, Berkeley 2017. 

“What Island is This? Literary Fantasy and the Problem of Plantation,” Yale University, 2016. 

“An Untamed Wilderness: Puritans, Pequots, and the Work of Memory,” Fairfield, CT, 2016. 

“The Pilgrims: A Documentary History,” The American Experience, featured; PBS, dir. Ric Burns, 2015.

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

“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, 2012.

Selected Papers Delivered

“Richard Danced” University of Notre Dame, London Program, 2023; Society of Early Americanists, 2023;  Franke Center for the Humanities, University of Chicago, 2022.

“A Case in Nevis, 1817,” Henry E. Huntington Library, 2022.

“The Gulley,” Society of Early Americanists, 2021. 

“Rose,” Modern Language Association, 2019. 

“Colonial Epistemologies: The Strangest Sound That Ever I Heard,” Society of Early Americanists, 2019. 

“Bad Spirits: Facing Fear on the Plantation.” Henry E. Huntington Library “Religious Affections” conference, 2017. 

“Just All As One: Plantation Aesthetics and the Staging of Reform,” American Comparative Literature Association, 2017. 

“Preserving the Dismal Swamp: Contexts of Maroon History,” Maroon World History Conference, 2016. 

“The Air of Truth: Plantation Emotions and the Staging of Reform,” Society of Early Americanists/ Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, 2015. 


Wheeler Hall, room 440

Spring 2024 Office Hours

Tuesdays 1-3pm

Wheeler Hall, Room 440