Matt Cohen's Profile Image
Professor of English, Co-Director of the Walt Whitman Archive, Co-Director of the Charles W. Chesnutt Archive, and Affiliate Faculty in Native American Studies


My work is driven by a fascination with methodology: How do we decide what counts as evidence? How do we move from evidence to argument? The study of literature and its history is one of the most provocative domains in which to explore larger questions about method in the human sciences. How have evidence, literature, and argument changed over time, shaped culture, and created beauty, inequality, or violence? How many hundreds of ways are there to read a book, to make a claim about it? Many of those ways don’t involve even opening a book—and for every method we now have of reading a book (or a newspaper, a screen, a poster, you name it), there is one the past knew that we have lost touch with. I pursue these questions in the fields of early American literature, Native American and Indigenous studies, digital archives, and the history of the book. I've written or edited seven books, including most recently The Silence of the Miskito Prince: How Cultural Dialogue Was Colonized (University of Minnesota Press, 2022—an open access version is also available). My first book was an edited collection of letters between my great-grandfather—a resident of Beatrice, Nebraska—and the creator of Tarzan, titled Brother Men: The Correspondence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston (Duke UP, 2005).

I’m currently writing a book about Decadence as a problem in literary history, focusing on writers and artists like Herman Melville, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Nella Larsen, Charles W. Chesnutt, Josephine Baker, Lil Nas X, and of course Doja Cat.

The emergence of the digital mediation of literary history is one of the most fascinating places to pursue questions of method. I’m lucky to be the co-director, with Kenneth M. Price and Ed Folsom, of the Walt Whitman Archive. I have led several projects there, including a collaborative effort to track all of the reprints of Whitman’s poetry published during the poet’s lifetime; a digital edition of Horace Traubel’s nine-volume biography of the poet; and the first book-length translation of Whitman’s poetry into Spanish, Álvaro Armando Vasseur’s Walt Whitman: Poemas. In 2020, four co-editors and I published a major update to the Archive’s digital edition of Whitman’s marginalia and annotations on other writers’ works.

With Price and Stephanie Browner, I co-edit the Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive, a free resource for the study of one of the most important figures in African American literary history.


Ph.D. (2002), College of William and Mary

M.A. (1995), College of William and Mary

B.A. (1992), Oberlin College

Areas of Interest

American Studies

History of the Book

Native American Studies

Early American Literature

Editorial Theory and Practice

Digital Archives