American Studies

Sean Meehan

Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing

Professor Meehan takes his passion for pedagogy and nonfiction writing into his role as Director of Writing, working with faculty and students on teaching and learning writing across the curriculum, and editing the Washington College Review, which publishes exemplary student writing that emerges from the core requirements of Washington College’s writing program.

He is currently teaching an English 101 course subtitled “The Gutenberg Progenies,” an exploration of the intersections of writing and technology from Frankenstein to Google. You can browse the course web site and blog (Comp\Post) to see what he and his students have been reading and writing. Other courses include American Environmental WritingIntroduction to Nonfiction, and Transcendentalism. Professor Meehan is also excited to be teaching the Humanities course in the Chesapeake Semester.

On campus, Professor Meehan has served on the Curriculum Committee, the Assessment Committee, as chair of the Humanities division, chair of the Faculty Council, chair of the President’s Task Force on Safety, Social Media, and Campus Culture, and is a past president of Washington College’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. 

His current scholarship focuses on the legacy and lessons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s first public intellectual and arguably its greatest essayist. Emerson, he contends, remains an important voice for articulating the values of liberal education, particularly of the sort thriving in small liberal arts colleges such as Washington College. He is completing a book about this titled A Liberal Education in Late Emerson: Readings in the Rhetoric of Mind.

In addition to his office meeting with students, looking for books in the the library, and attending campus events sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society, the C.V. Starr Center, the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and Sophie Kerr, you will find Professor Meehan on the tennis courts, or possibly in a kayak on the Chester with his wife, Mary, and his two children, Maisie and Hugh, and with their retriever, Annie Dillard, close behind.


  • Ph.D. English, University of Iowa, 2002.
  • M.A. English, SUNY Buffalo, 1996.
  • A.B. English, Princeton University, 1991.

Published Work


Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (co-edited with Mark Long). Modern Language Association of America, forthcoming 2018.

Mediating American Autobiography: Photography in Emerson, Thoreau, Douglass, and Whitman. University of Missouri Press, 2008.

Both photography and autobiography involve a tension between disclosing and concealing their means of production: a chemical process for one, the writing process for the other. Professor Meehan examines how four major authors—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman—were well aware of this tension and explored it in their work. By examining the implications of early photography in their writings, he shows how each engaged the new visual medium, how photography mediated their conceptions of self-representation, and how their appropriation of photographic thinking created a new kind of autobiography.

Selected Essays

  • “The Environment of Liberal Education: Emerson, Berry, and the Rhetoric of Liberal Education.” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (forthcoming).
  • “Everything Has Two Handles: Late Emerson and the Rhetoric of Metonymy.” ESQ (forthcoming).
  • “Essaying with Emerson.” Emerson Society Papers (Spring 2017).
  • “Metonymies of Mind: Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, and the Rhetoric of Liberal Education.” Philosophy and Rhetoric (Fall 2016).

  • “Ecology and Imagination: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Nature of Metonymy.” Criticism (Spring 2013).

  • “Education after an Earthquake: Emerson’s Lessons in Panic and Pedagogy.” Pedagogy (Spring 2011). 
  • “‘Nature’s Stomach’: Emerson, Whitman, and the Poetics of Digestion.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (Winter 2011).
  • “‘You Are the Book’s Book’: Robert Richardson’s Emersonian Workshop.” Pedagogy (Winter 2010).
  • “Photography.” The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • “Text Minding.” Digital Humanities Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  • “Pencil of Nature: Thoreau’s Photographic Register.” Criticism. (Winter 2006).
  • “Living Learning: Lessons from Emerson’s School.” Emerson Society Papers (Fall 2006)
  • “Emerson’s Photographic Thinking.” Arizona Quarterly (Summer 2006).
  • “Specimen Daze: Whitman’s Photobiography.” Biography (Fall 1999).


Work in Progress

A Liberal Education in Late Emerson: Readings in the Rhetoric of Mind (under contract with Camden House/Boydell & Brewer)


Scholarly And Teaching Interests

  • Creative Nonfiction and the Essay
  • Environmental Writing
  • Literature and other Arts/Media
  • Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture
  • Writing Pedagogy

Honors And Affiliations

  • American Literature Association
  • Emerson Society, Advisory Board
  • Magna Cum Laude, Princeton University
  • National Council of Teachers of English
  • Phi Beta Kappa: Member and Past President of Washington College’s Theta chapter
  • Presidential Fellow, University of Iowa (1996-2001)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association Fellow, Houghton Library, Harvard University (2005-2006)

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