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Peter Schmidt

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor

English Literature


  2. Phone: (610) 328-8156
  3. Eugene M. and Theresa Lang Performing Arts Center 206
  4. Office Hours:

    Tues and Thurs 11:15 to 12:00 
    and by appointment.
    (in person or via Zoom)

Self-Portrait; or, How to Drop a Plate of Spaghetti

For information on my teaching and publications, see below and also the Web site and links.

Web site

Peter Schmidt is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College.  He teaches courses in U.S. literature and literary and cultural history, with a particular focus on fiction and poetry in the twentieth century.

Selected Publications  print and online, in reverse chronological order:

Professor Schmidt's current research projects focus on contemporary fiction and poetry (the 1960s or so and after) and their implications for reconsidering the history of family, nation, and cosmopolitanism. 

For online essays and blog entries on art and culture, see both Professor Schmidt's blog on literature and the arts and this older webpage.

  • Making and Unmaking Whiteness in Early New South Fiction After the Civil War / Its Relevance for Multiracial Democracy Today (Smashwords e-text, 2012). 

    This essay—a work of literary criticism and critical race studies written to be accessible to non-specialists—examines how popular fiction contributed to and contested new forms of white racial dominance, collectively known as Jim Crow or the "color-line," in the U.S. in the 1880s and after.  I focus in particular on the cultural work undertaken by the "command performance" scene in these texts, in which a black person was asked to tell a story or otherwise give a performance that was supposed to affirm the affection and respect "good" blacks held for whites. Yet what begins to emerge again and again in such "command performance" scenes, even sometimes against the author's efforts to downplay them, are suggestions of coercion, duplicity, and instability in power hierarchies and racial identities. White supremacy is demonstrably not a given here; it is imperfectly produced, or at least reaffirmed under stress, in a way that locally conditions any power that whiteness may claim. And if a white person's sense of entitlement was so dependent upon the performance of another, to what degree could such a sense of self be threatened or even unmade in such encounters? 

  • Making and Unmaking Whiteness surveys a broad range of black and white authors but gives special attention to the fictions of four-Joel Chandler Harris, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Kate Chopin, and Pauline Hopkins-who in the early Jim Crow era both dissected the contradictions in white supremacy and imagined alternatives.

  • Sitting in Darkness: New South Fiction, Education, and the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920.  (University Press of Mississippi, 2008).

    This book-length literary/historical study looks at authors who critiqued the post-Reconstruction U.S. racial order that emerged at the same time as the U.S. began ambitious new colonial development projects in its newly acquired colonies.  The authors considered include Twain, Du Bois, Cable, Harper, Dixon, and many other authors from that era who should be better known, including Griggs, Ingraham, McClellan, Wister, W. H. Page, and Tolentino. 

    Table of Contents

  • Postcolonial Theory and the U.S.: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature (University Press of Mississippi, 2000).  With Amritjit Singh, co-editor.

    Table of Contents 

    The Heart of the Story: Eudora Welty's Short Fiction.  (University of Mississippi Press, 1991).  Winner of the C. Hugh Holman Award for Southern Literary Criticism from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.

    Table of Contents:

    1. The Anxieties of Authorship: Heroines and Women Artists in A Curtain of Green
    2. Misogyny and the Medusa's Gaze: Welty's Tragic Tales
    3. Rigidity and Rebirth: Eudora Welty and Women's Comedy
    4. Sibyls: Eudora Welty and American Women's Literature

  • William Carlos Williams, the Arts, and Literary Tradition.  (Louisiana State University Press, 1988).

Selected Courses at Swarthmore College

taught regularly:

English 009H, "Portraits of the Artist" [First-Year Seminar]
English 52A, "U.S. Fiction 1900-1950"
English 52B, "U.S. Fiction 1945 to the Present"
English 53, "Modern American Poetry"
English 116, the American Literature Honors seminar, with a focus on the 20th century

taught occasionally:

English 71B, "The Lyric Poem in English" (a survey course exploring great lyric poems and poets from the Middle Ages to the present)
English 71D, "The Short Story in the U.S."
English 70A, Poetry Workshop

For selected course descriptions and other info, see

What Mark Twain Said Regarding Regime Changes and Other Righteous American Foibles

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