Valeria Tsygankova

Valeria is a doctoral candidate, specializing in American literature of the nineteenth century. Valeria’s dissertation investigates the charged meanings taken on by material objects in the Anglophone literature of slavery and antislavery. We know that US abolitionists argued that the scandal of US slavery was its treatment of people as things. What did the ‘thing’ mean in this context, as an ontological and historical category? And can the literal material objects captured in the archive of antislavery writing tell us anything new about how antislavery thinkers conceptualized the relation between persons and things? This dissertation project tracks the development and popularization of the “ontological scandal” argument through the work of Anthony Benezet, George McDowell Stroud, Theodore Dwight Weld, and Frederick Douglass, among others, and considers Charles W. Chesnutt’s “Conjure Stories” in the same philosophical context. The project also demonstrates how objects themselves could come to the fore in antislavery discourse, serving as embodied arguments about personhood for abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson, as well as for enslaved agents, in the work of Hannah Crafts, Frederick Douglass, and Matthew Gregory Lewis. Finally, this research turns to the literature of the Sea Islands occupation (work by T. W. Higginson, Charlotte Forten, and Emily Dickinson), to show how writers’ attention to reshuffled wartime relationships between persons and things illuminates the meanings of the Civil War for former slaves and black and white Northerners. 

Valeria has taught an undergraduate seminar on “The Lives of Things” in American literature from Walden to Quicksand, in addition to several semesters of University Writing with an American Studies focus, and has served as Senior Instructor in the pedagogy course for graduate instructors in Columbia’s Undergraduate Writing Program. 

Valeria received an M.Phil. and M.A. in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia (2015, 2013), an M.A. in the History of the Book from the Institute of English Studies, University of London (2012), and a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania (2011). 

Academic Interests: 

American literature of the long nineteenth century; early 20th-century American literature; African-American literature; slavery and antislavery; affect theory; thing theory; material culture