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headshot of John Kuhn

John Kuhn

Assistant Professor

English, General Literature and Rhetoric

Background

John Kuhn is a specialist in 17th century English literature and history. At Binghamton, you can find him teaching the English department’s big Shakespeare lecture, as well as classes on early modern drama, the colonization of the Americas, and the period’s beautiful, varied and often vexing poetry.

Currently, Professor Kuhn’s main research project is a book, tentatively titled Making Pagans: Theatrical Practice and Comparative Religion in Early Modern England. The book focuses on the crazy, special-effects-heavy scenes of “pagan” religion (altars, idols, conjurors, group suicides, triumphal parades) that audiences loved to see onstage, and their relation to the developing study of comparative religion in 17th-century England. A portion on pagan altars has recently appeared in Early Theatre.

In addition to his work on drama, Kuhn has a long-running fascination with the lyric poet George Herbert. Scholarship on Herbert has tended to focus rather narrowly on the relationship between his poetry and the fine points of Christian theology. In a series of essays, Kuhn has attempted to situate his work in a much wider set of political and aesthetic contexts. These include articles on the links between Herbert's poetry, English colonial expansion and millenarianism; his poetry's relationship to the food and poverty crisis in Caroline Wiltshire; links between the visual design of his lyric poems and contemporaneous tombstone-engraving practices; and his place in the tradition of the rabidly nationalist neo-Latin miniature epic (with L. Gibson). One final essay is in the pipeline, on his famous (and very Christian) “shape poems” as an important source for the concrete poetic experiments of the atheist, surrealist poet Lorine Niedecker in the 1960s.

Kuhn is also at work on three new, linked pieces that focus on European reactions to and adoptions of indigenous technology in the long and chaotic aftermath of 1492. One, in collaboration with Marcy Norton, traces the global history of the hammock during its explosion outward from the southern Americas. The second documents the collision of indigenous and European waterpower technologies in the 17th century Haudenosaunee borderlands (where Binghamton is located today) and particularly the European fascination with that most wonderful object: the birchbark canoe. A third examines and thinks about the Amerindian craft practices and Amerindian-made objects that the late-17th century English theater incorporated into its spectacles.

Education

  • PhD,Columbia University
  • BA, University of Kansas (summa cum laude)

Research Interests

  • 16th- and 17th-century English literature and history

Teaching Interests

  • Drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries
  • 17th-century poetry
  • Literature and history of early European expansion into the Atlantic