Priscilla Wald

Priscilla Wald

R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English

External address: 
327B Allen Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90015, Durham, NC 27708-0015
(919) 684-6869

Priscilla Wald teaches and works on U.S. literature and culture, particularly literature of the late-18th to mid-20th centuries, contemporary narratives of science and medicine, science fiction literature and film, law and literature, and environmental studies. Her current work focuses on the intersections among the law, literature, science and medicine. Her last book-length study, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, considers the intersection of medicine and myth in the idea of contagion and the evolution of the contemporary stories we tell about the global health problem of "emerging infections.” Wald is also the author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form and co-editor, with Michael Elliott, of volume 6 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English, The American Novel, 1870-1940. She is currently at work on a book-length study entitled Human Being After Genocide. This work chronicles the challenge to conceptions of human being that emerged from scientific and technological innovation in the wake of the Second World War and from the social and political thought of that period, which addressed the geopolitical transformations that followed the war and decolonization movements. Wald is interested in tracking how those debates found expression in what, following several historians, she calls a new mythistory (the term marks the mythic features of a collective history, or creation story).  She tracks it through the rise of science fiction as a newly emergent mass genre and then turns to how it inflected the debates around the science and ethics of biotechnology as it became a multi-billion dollar industry. She is interested, in this project, in showing how beliefs and values circulate through mythistories as well as in how, why, and when mythistories become more visible and accessible to change.  This project explores the particular importance of science, law, and religion to these stories and works to identify ideas of the sacred that we don’t typically identify as such.  Wald is especially interested in analyzing how information emerging from research in the genome sciences circulates through mainstream media and popular culture, thereby shaping a particular understanding of the science that is steeped in (often misleading) cultural biases and assumptions. In her research, her teaching and her professional activities, she is committed to promoting conversations among scholars from science, medicine, law and cultural studies in order to facilitate a richer understanding of how information circulates through language, images, and stories to shape lived experience. Wald's professional service includes: co-editor of American Literature, co-editor, with David Kazanjian and Elizabeth McHenry of the America in the Long Nineteenth Century book series at NYU Press, Chair of the Faculty Board of Duke University Press, member of the Editorial Boards of Penn Studies in Literature and Science and the journal Literature and Medicine, Senior Editor for American Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, on the Advisory Board of the Centre for Humanities and Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, and co-director, with Sean Goudie, of the First Book Institute. She has served as President of the American Studies Association and on the National Council of that organization as well as on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association and as the MLA representative to the American Council of Learned Societies. Wald is currently Margaret Taylor Smith Director of the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and is on the Faculty Governance Committee of Science and Society and the steering committee of IS&S (Information Sciences + Information Studies) at Duke.


  • Ph.D., Columbia University 1989
  • M.A., Columbia University 1981
  • B.A., Yale University 1980

Wald, P. “Viral cultures: Microbes and politics in the cold war.” In Zombie Theory: A Reader, 33–62, 2017.

Wald, P. “Foreword,” viii–xi, 2015. Full Text

Wald, P. “Science, technology, and the environment.” In The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction, 179–93, 2015. Full Text

Wald, P. “The Cultural Politics of Blood, 1500-1900.” edited by K. Cole, R. Bauer, Z. Nunes, and C. Patterson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Wald, P. “Science and Literature in America.” In Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology in America, edited by Hugh Slotten, Steve Usselman, and Constance Clark, 2014.

Wald, P. “Immigrant Literature and the Immigrant Experience.” In Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, edited by Elliott Barkan, 1839–55. ABC-Clio, 2013.

Wald, P. “The ‘Hidden Tyrant’: Propaganda, Brainwashing, and Psycho-Politics in the Cold War Period.” In Oxford Handbook of Propaganda Studies, edited by Jonathan Auerbach and Russ Castronovo, 109–30. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Wald, P. “Afterword.” In Contagionism and Contagious Diseases: Medicine and Literature between 1880 and 1933, edited by Thomas Rutten and Martina King, 225–32. De Gruyter, 2013.


Taylor, M. A., and P. Wald. “Xenopolitics.” American Quarterly 71, no. 3 (January 1, 2019): 895–902. Full Text

Wald, Priscilla. “Christopher Hamlin,More Than Hot: A Short History of Fever.” Social History of Medicine 29, no. 3 (August 2016): 663–64. Full Text

Wald, P. “The provincialism of time.” Early American Literature 50, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 63–80. Full Text

Hudson, Patricia, David Goldfield, Robert Lee Bailey, Elaine Cohen Hubal, Priscilla Wald, and Doug Stewart. “Serials from the Other Side: An Editorial Perspective on Current Trends in Scholarly Communication.” Serials Review 39, no. 3 (September 2013): 190–92. Full Text

Morgan, P. T., and P. Wald. “Preface: Thoreau symposium.” American Literature 85, no. 1 (March 1, 2013): 1–3. Full Text

Hudsona, P., D. Goldfield, R. L. Bailey, E. C. Hubal, and P. Wald. “Serials from the other side: An editorial perspective on current trends in scholarly communication.” Serials Review 39, no. 3 (January 1, 2013): 190–92. Full Text

Wald, P. “Botanophobia: Fear of Plants in the Atomic Age.” Japanese Journal of American Studies, 2013, 7–27.

Wald, P. “American Studies and the Politics of Life: ASA Presidential Address.” American Quarterly 64 (2012): 185–204.

Canavan, G., and P. Wald. “American Literature: Preface.” American Literature 83, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 237–49. Full Text


Wald, Priscilla. “BIO TERROR Hybridity in the Biohorror Narrative, or What We Can Learn from Monsters.” In Contagion: Health, Fear, Sovereignty, edited by B. Magnusson and Z. Zalloua, 99–122. UNIV WASHINGTON PRESS, 2012.

Clayton, J., L. J. Davis, J. M. Metzl, P. Wald, and B. L. Hausman. “Forum: Conference debates - Biocultures: An emerging paradigm.” In Pmla, 124:947–56, 2009. Full Text

Wald, Priscilla. “Review of Cynthia H. Tolentino's America's Experts: Race and the Fictions of Sociology.” Novel a Forum on Fiction, 2011.

Wald, P. “Review of John Carlos Rowe’s The Other Henry James.” New England Quarterly, 2000.