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.
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.