Michael Keller, Ph.D., associate professor of English, presented a paper at the annual conference for the Irish Association for American Studies (IAAS), hosted by Dublin City University, on April 29-30.  The paper was entitled, “Familicide in Mettingen: Wilderness Structures in Wieland. 

“The IAAS conference was fantastic,” said Dr. Keller.  “I was very fortunate to be able to participate in this gathering of brilliant, welcoming, and engaged American Studies scholars.”

The familial violence in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland is firmly rooted in—indeed, is structured by—the place where it happens, a land outside of the city cultivated by a colonial settler. This retreat, known as Mettingen, becomes the location of the elder Wieland’s spontaneous combustion, the preternatural intrusions of the foreigner Carwin, and Theodore Wieland’s sacrificial murder of his own family.  As William Cronon writes, “[T]here is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness.  It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny.”

This paper reads Brown’s treatment of familicide as a projection of settler colonial structures onto contemporaneous notions of wilderness.  Rather than landing where previous critics have—namely, viewing the sacrificial murder through the lens of Gothic excess, personal trauma, or critiques of religious zeal—this approach helps us understand the Wieland murders as a byproduct of the internalized violence and ambiguities of the settler colonialism that made Mettingen possible.  This includes the “myth of emptiness” that settlers employed as they attempted to create Edens in an already occupied land.

More information about IAAS can be found on their website at https://iaas.ie/.

Keller spent the 2021-2022 academic year at the University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway, thanks to him receiving the Fulbright Fellowship. A top international educational exchange, the Fulbright Program awards grants based on academic merit and leadership qualities.   While in Norway, he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in American literature conducted research for his next article or, potentially, a book.

Keller teaches courses in American literature, rhetoric, and literary theory.  His current research examines the intersections between early nationalism and American literature.  He earned his B.A. from Wheaton College, his M.A. from Northern Illinois University, and his Ph.D. in English at Marquette University.

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