Samuel Otter

D25D Hearst Field Annex
By appointment. Please email.

Professional Statement

Samuel Otter has taught in the English Department at the University of California at Berkeley since 1990. His research and teaching focus on nineteenth-century United States literatures. He is particularly interested in the relationships between literature and history, the varieties of literary excess, and the ways in which close textual reading also can be deep and wide.

He has published Melville’s Anatomies (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1999), in which he analyzes Melville’s concern with how meanings, particularly racial meanings, have been invested in and abstracted from human bodies. In Philadelphia Stories (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), he examines the narratives about race, character, manners, violence, and freedom that unfold across a range of texts written in and about Philadelphia as social laboratory between 1790 and 1860. He has co-edited the volumes Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville: Essays in Relation (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008) and Melville and Aesthetics (Palgrave, 2011). He currently serves as the editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and is a member of the editorial boards of Nineteenth-Century Literature, PMLA, and RepresentationsHe is working on a book titled "Melville's Forms," ranging across the writer's fiction, poetry, and prose/poetry experiments, in which he examines what Melville meant by, and so what 21st-century literary critics might more precisely mean by, the tiny, crucial term "form." 

In recent years, he has taught the English Department's Honors course for senior English majors, undergraduate seminars on Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James, undergraduate lecture courses on American literature before 1800 and American literature 1800-1865, and graduate seminars on transatlantic literature and on 19th-century American literature beyond the canon.




Title Fields
Otter_philadelphia Philadelphia Stories: America's Literature of Race and Freedom
A historic and symbolic city on the border between slavery and freedom, antebellum Philadelphia was home to one of the largest and most influential "free" African American communities in the United States. The city was seen by residents and observers as the stage on which the possibilities of freedom would be tested and a post-slavery future would be played out for the nation. Philade....

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered

Selected Publications:


Philadelphia Stories: America's Literature of Race and Freedom.  Oxford Univ. Press, 2010.

Melville’s Anatomies.  Univ. of California Press, 1999.

Melville and Aesthetics. Co-edited with Geoffrey Sanborn (Bard College). Palgrave, 2011.

Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville: Essays in Relation. Co-edited with Robert S. Levine (Univ. of Maryland). Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008.


American Renaissance and Us.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.2 (Fall 2015).

“Reading Moby-Dick.” In The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville, 2nd edition. Ed. Robert S. Levine (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

"Frank Webb's Still Life: Rethinking Literature and Politics through The Garies and Their Friends."  American Literary History 20.4 (Winter 2008).

"An Aesthetics in All Things."  Representations 104 (Fall 2008).

"How Clarel Works." In A Companion to Melville Studies, ed. Wyn Kelley (Blackwell, 2006).

"Melville and Disability."  Special issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 8.1 (March 2006), co-edited with David T. Mitchell (George Washington Univ.) 

"'An Almost Incredible Book': Fiction and Fact in Melville's Typee."  ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 51.1-3 (2005).


Recent Lectures and Conference Papers:

“Melville’s Islands” (“Melville in a Global Context, Tokyo, June 2015)

“Out from Behind This Mask”: Word and Image in Whitman’s Two Rivulets and Leaves of Grass” (“The Visual and the Verbal: Image/Text in American Print Culture to 1900,” conference at the American Antiquarian Society, Nov. 2014)

“Melville, Welles, and Moby-Dick” (“Symposium: Transformative Stage—Sea Change in Orson Welles and Herman Melville,” Stanford Univ., Aug. 2014)

“Melville Poetry, Prints” (Charles Mills Gayley Annual Lecture, Berkeley, Apr. 2013; revised version delivered at Columbia University, April 2014)

“Melville and Whitman in Prose and Poetry” (“Melville and Whitman in Washington, DC: The Civil War and After,” conference held at George Washington University, June 2013)

“Moby-Dick; or, the Squid” (San Francisco State University, Nov. 2012; revised version delivered as “Form and Formlessness in Moby-Dick" to the Berkeley Humanities Club, March 2015)


Current Research

"Melville's Forms," with chapters on style and landscape in Typee and Clarel; form and formlessness in Moby-Dick and the late poetry; texts and contexts, parts and wholes, in the short fiction, especially the paired sketches and "The Encantadas"; ekphrasis in Redburn, Moby-Dick, Pierre, and Clarel and the relationships between Melville's poetry writing and print collecting; prose and verse in John Marr and Other Sailors and Billy Budd, Sailor; and a coda on interpretation and faith in The Confidence-Man

Recent English Courses Taught

Fall, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/3 Research Seminar: Moby-Dick, and More American Literature
Research Seminars
200/1 Problems in the Study of Literature Graduate Courses
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
H195B/1 Honors Course Honors and Tutorial Courses

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