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. “William Peterfield Trent.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography: Nineteenth Century American Literary Critics and Scholars. Columbia, SC: Bruccoli-Clark, Inc, 1989.

Wald, P. “Biological Evolution, keyword entry.” In Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics, edited by I. Szeman. Fordham University Press, n.d.

Wald, P. “Natural Disaster.” In Keywords in the Study of Environment and Culture, edited by J. Adamson, W. A. Gleason, and D. Pellow. New York University Press, n.d.


Wald, P., C. DiStefano, and J. Weisenfeld. “Edititorial.” Institutions, Regulation, and Social Control, Signs 24, no. 4 (1999): 857–68.

Wald, P. “Fabulous Shadows: Rethinking the Emersonian Tradition.” American Quarterly 50 (December 1998): 831–39.

Wald, P. “Minefields and meeting grounds: Transnational analyses and American studies.” American Literary History 10, no. 1 (March 1, 1998): 199–218. Full Text

Wald, P. “Cultures and Carriers: ’Typhoid Mary’ and the Science of Social Control.” Social Text 52–53 (1997): 181–214.

Wald, P. “Minefields and Meeting Grounds: Transnational Analyses and American Studies.” American Literary History 9, no. 1 (1997): 199–218.

Wald, P. “Terms of Assimilation: Legislating Subjectivity in the Emerging Nation.” Boundary 2 19 (1992): 77–104.

Wald, P. “Guilt by Dissociation: John Yau’s Poetics of Possibility.” Talisman 5 (1990): 121–26.