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Headshot of Theo Davis

Professor of English

Professor Davis is currently working on two book projects.  Somatic Awareness: Teachers of Embodied Consciousness approaches the topic of embodiment through a historical and critical study of somatics, a field of bodywork focused on cultivating sensory awareness. The book explores the somatic teachers Genevieve Stebbins, Elsa Gindler, Carola Speads, Charlotte Selver, Charles Brooks, and Moshe Feldenkrais through their writings, memoirs written by their students, and recordings of their work. Interpreting this largely unknown field for humanities scholars, Professor Davis discusses how somatics challenges accounts of embodiment’s relationship to materiality, representation, and subjectivity that have been central to the humanities.  Attachment Issues: Explorations of Intersubjectivity in American Literatureuses work on attachment theory, in particular the work of Daniel Stern, to discuss the formation of intersubjectivity in the work of nineteenth-century American writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Wilson, and Herman Melville.

Her first book, Formalism, Experience and the Making of American Literature in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007), argued that nineteenth-century American writers conceived of the experience of reading as a realm of typical responses that was, itself, the true medium of literature. She also proposed such work be thought of as an “affective formalism,” one that looked to the structure and shape of responsive experience as a domain of aesthetic interest. Her second book, Ornamental Aesthetics: The Poetry of Attending in Thoreau, Dickinson, and Whitman (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016), built off of that approach to argue that ornamentation is a practice of honoring and attending, one that figures a particular way of being in relation to the world. Together, these books pay intense attention to the difference language makes, but always with an eye to that difference as it manifests in perception and behavior, or in the felt range of human experience.

View CV
  • Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship 2018-2019
  • “Ornamental Aesthetics” chosen 2017 Outstanding Academic Title, “Choice”
  • Education

    PhD in English and American Literature, 2002, Johns Hopkins University

  • Contact

  • Address

    421 Holmes Hall
    360 Huntington Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115

  • Office Hours

    By appointment


Course catalog
  • Proseminar

    ENGL 5103

    Introduces the history and current scholarly practices of English studies. Surveys theoretical, methodological, and institutional issues in the development of the discipline; introduces students to the research of the English department’s graduate faculty; and offers opportunities for the practice of key components of scholarly production, including formulating research questions, using databases, conducting literature reviews, and writing and presenting scholarship in common formats other than the long research paper, such as conference proposals, oral presentations, and book reviews.

  • Studies the nineteenth-century development of an American national literary tradition in the context of democratic and romantic attitudes toward experience, nation formation, and national crisis. Includes such writers as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Fuller, and Melville.