Ezra Tawil’s research has focused on American literature in English between the middle of the eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth. His work is shaped by the objectives of "literary history" in the strong sense of that term: at once the history of literary forms and an accounting of the contribution those forms made to broader historical processes. The point is not to blend literary questions and historical ones indiscriminately, but in fact to register what is particular about literary writing—the specific kinds of pleasure it offers, and the specific kinds of cultural power that distinguish it from other forms of discourse. His first book, The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance (Cambridge, 2006), showed how the period between 1750 and 1850 oversaw a decisive shift in the cultural understanding of racial difference, and argued that a particular literary genre played an important and unacknowledged role there. In a similar spirit, but with a different emphasis, his current book project takes up the origins of a specifically literary version of American exceptionalism at the end of the eighteenth century, during the period of transition from British-American colonies to U.S. nation. It was an idea that would have made little sense earlier in the colonial period, and yet it would be entirely taken for granted a century later. When did it first make sense to speak of an "American literature" as a distinct tradition, and in precisely what terms did the writers themselves do so?
- The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance, Cambridge 2006
- Editor, The Cambridge Companion to Slavery and American Literature, Cambridge (available January 2016).
- Editor and Introduction, The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper, Belknap-Harvard 2013
- "'New Forms of Sublimity': Edgar Huntly and the European Origins of American Exceptionalism," in The Early American Novel, spec. double issue of Novel 40.1/2 (spring 2006/fall 2007), 104-24
- "On a Clear Day, You Can See the Atlantic Seventeenth Century," rev. essay in Diaspora: A Journal of Transatlantic Studies 14.2/3 (fall/winter 2005 [pub. 2009]), 431-44
- "Captain Babo's Cabin: Racial Sentiment and the Politics of Misreading in Benito Cereno," in Leviathan 8.2 (June 2006), 37-51
- "Domestic Frontier Romance, or, How the Sentimental Heroine Became White," in Novel 32.1 (fall 1998 [pub. 2000]), 99-124
- Seduction, Sentiment, and the Transatlantic Plain Style,” in Aesthetics, Feeling and Form, a special issue of Early American Literature, Spring, 2016.
- "Brown's Literary Afterlife," in The Oxford Handbook on Charles Brockden Brown, ed. Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro, Oxford 2016
- Literature, American Style: Exceptionalism and Transatlantic Culture (book-in-progress)
Selected Book Covers
- Courses in literature from early British America to the end of the nineteenth century; the rise of the novel in America; the literary history of race; American sentimentalism; transatlantic theories of the aesthetic
Professional Honors and Awards
- Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship in Residence, New York Public Library, 2008-09
- Alan Heimert Teaching Prize, Harvard University, 2001