Melissa Gniadek teaches American literature and culture in the English Department at the University of Toronto.
Her research is motivated by questions about how relationships to place are negotiated through literature and through historical writings. Her first book, Oceans at Home: Maritime and Domestic Fictions in Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Writing (University of Massachusetts Press, August 2021) takes up this question by examining how oceanic regions, particularly the Pacific, circulated in writing by women in the first half of the nineteenth century. Across chapters that focus on the domestic space of childhood reading and education, that stereotypical nineteenth-century evolving home space, “the west,” and haunted family histories of the New England coast, this book traces a female-authored engagement with oceanic spaces that both brings the oceans home and alerts us to intimate histories of global empire and settler colonialism.
Some of Melissa’s other ongoing research focuses on how the problems of settler colonialism—the problems inherent when colonizers from an “old” world seek to inhabit a “new” one already inhabited by others—are represented formally or aesthetically in the nineteenth century. This work examines settler colonialism as an ongoing process of dispossession that manifests itself across literary genres and cultural forms.
Questions about representations of settler colonialism as well as travel and cross-cultural contact have taken Melissa from the United States to New Zealand and back, and now to Canada. As a result, her work is invested in reorienting geographic as well as temporal and generic boundaries.
In the classroom Melissa encourages students to develop the fundamental skills of literary analysis, to engage in conversations with texts and with each other, and to hone their writing. She likes students to leave her classes excited by the range of U.S. literatures they have encountered and eager for more.
Before coming to the University of Toronto, Melissa taught at Rice University. She also taught at Cornell University while doing her doctoral work.