Teaching and Research

David Ball, Associate Professor of English

B.A., Stanford University, 1998; M.A., Princeton University, 2003; Ph.D., 2007.

I have been teaching as a professor of English at Dickinson College since 2007. My areas of expertise include nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature and culture, American modernism, graphic narratives, and literary theory. These eclectic interests shape both the form and content of my classes, which are all structured as multidisciplinary inquiries into the ways that literary study informs, and is informed by, other fields of knowledge. Philosophical and historical analysis, film and visual studies, popular culture and language theory are all materials that can enrich a classroom discussion in the search for points of intellectual intersection between literary texts and extra-literary contexts. Put into practice, this means asking such questions as: What defines the modern? Can a text be considered “American” in an increasingly globalized world? Is a democratic art possible? Can comics become literature?

As I continue to teach, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a choral approach is the best way to begin to formulate answers to these questions. My syllabi invariably incorporate multicultural texts, both from canonical and non-canonical authors, and my teaching philosophy relies heavily on dialogic, student-generated intellectual exchanges. I’ve also become increasing motivated in my desire to break down the dividing wall between the classroom and the rest of world, focusing on experiential learning opportunities in classes—and organizing faculty-student colloquia, reading groups and other means of intellectual exchange on the Dickinson campus.

I have completed two book projects and am at work currently on a third. The first stems from my doctoral studies at Princeton University, where I wrote a dissertation entitled False Starts: The Rhetoric of Failure and the Making of American Modernism, 1850-1950. I argue that one of the defining literary gestures of American authors in the modern period is what I’ve called “the rhetoric of failure”: the romance and celebration of failure as a watchword for literary success. This counterintuitive, but extremely prevalent discourse, motivates everything from authors’ first articulations of literary prestige in the mid-nineteenth century, to responses to demographic changes in the American citizenry and the failures of universal democratic principles in the twentieth century. Particularly important writers for me in this study include Melville, Emerson, Wharton, Adams, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Ellison. I incorporate a range of interpretive approaches, including everything from material culture studies to poststructural language theory, to evaluate the uses of failure for American writers. False Starts is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2014.

One area where this rhetoric of failure is especially prevalent is in the contemporary graphic novel, which spurred my interest in my second book: an edited collection of critical essays on the work of Chris Ware titled The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking. Ware is the author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Quimby the Mouse (2003), The ACME Novelty Library Annual Report to Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Fun Book (2005), and most recently, Building Stories (2012), all book-length comics with the texture and density of literary fiction. Ware is in many ways the James Joyce or Vladimir Nabokov of cartoonists, using the visual and linguistic capabilities of comics to produce intricate and nuanced narratives that draw inspiration from an astonishing array of creative sources. My co-editor, Professor Martha Kuhlman at Bryant University, and I bring together essays that chart these multidisciplinary influences and begin to explicate how Ware’s graphic narratives can answer important questions in the fields of American art and literature, comics history, disability studies, critical race theory, and visual studies, among many others. The Comics of Chris Ware is now available at a local, independently-owned bookstore near you.

My current project is on the intersection of comics and artistic and literary modernism, and I’m at work now on chapters about the seminal early newspaper cartoonist George Herriman and the underappreciated “novels in woodcuts” of Lynd Ward. More soon once this book comes into clearer focus in the coming months.

On this page you can find my curriculum vitae, many of my most recent course syllabi, and a few favorite links to sites around the web. You can find me in Princeton through 2015, where I’m on leave as a Visiting Associate Professor of English, or electronically at balld@dickinson.edu.


ENG/HUM/URB 359 (Princeton): “Mapping NYC Modernism: Literature and Art History,” Spring 2015

ENG309 (Princeton): “American Comics,” Fall 2014

ART/ENG399 (Princeton): “Contemporary Experimental Literature and Visual Culture,” Spring 2014

ENG201 (Princeton): “American Literary History,” Fall 2013

ENG101: “Graphic Narratives,” Spring 2013, Fall 2009, Spring 2008

ENG404: “Senior Literature Seminar and Workshop,” Spring 2013, Spring 2010

ENG220: “Critical Approaches and Literary Methods,” Fall 2012, Spring 2011, Spring 2010, Fall 2008

ENG329: “Experimental Fictions,” Fall 2012

ENG403: “Literary Controversies, Critical Questions,” Fall 2012, Fall 2009

AMS301/ENG370 (with Sharon O’Brien): “American Lives, Changing Contexts,” Spring 2011

FYS100: “Graphic Narratives in a Global Frame,” Fall 2010

ENG101/WGST101: “Gender in American Fiction,” Fall 2010, Spring 2009

ENG370: “American Literature, Global Contexts,” Fall 2010, Spring 2009

ENG364: “Making it New: Multicultural American Modernism,” Fall 2009, Spring 2008

ENG212: “American Success, American Failure,” Spring 2009, Spring 2008

ENG370: “Border Studies: Multicultural American Literature, Beginnings-1850,” Fall 2008

ENG101: “Americans Abroad,” Fall 2007

ENG212: “Democratic Fictions,” Fall 2007

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