Aaron R. Hanlon

Assistant Professor of English

Office: Miller Library 228 [ campus map ]
Phone: 207-859-5263
Fax: 207-859-5252
Office Hours:
Tu 4pm-5:30pm; W 10am-12pm and by appointment
Hanlon, Aaron R.


D.Phil., Oxford
M.A., Dartmouth
B.A., M.A., Bucknell

Areas of Expertise

  • British literature c. 1600-1815
  • US and transatlantic literatures to 1815
  • The Enlightenment
  • Literature and: history and philosophy of science; epistemology; political theory
  • Knowledge organization
  • Conceptual engineering

Courses Currently Teaching

CourseCourse Title
EN120A ALanguage, Thought, and Writing: Styles of Persuasion
EN200 AFoundations of Literary Studies
EN200 BFoundations of Literary Studies
EN363 AThe Enlightenment and the Anthropocene
EN493K ASeminar: The Complications of Jonathan Swift

Professional Information

My research takes Enlightenment literary history as a basis for understanding how we frame and organize knowledge, how the domains of reality and fiction interact in literature, and how science writing and the eighteenth-century novel mutually construct our ideas about what we know and how we know it.

I'm especially interested in the value of literature and literary studies for what philosophers call "conceptual engineering." Conceptual engineering answers not only the question of what concepts mean or have meant historically, but what they should mean to best serve their purposes in our lives and in our quest for knowledge. For example, I'm currently working on how we use and should use concepts like "data," "fact," "truth," and "evidence." Literary and historical texts have shaped the development of these concepts over time, but also provide insight into how these concepts could better function in the world.

My first book, A World of Disorderly Notions: Quixote and the Logic of Exceptionalism (University of Virginia Press, 2019), explains the concept of "exceptionalism," a belief that one's special mission or outlook on the world justifies not having to follow the same rules as everyone else. The character of Don Quixote, rewritten for differing eras and international audiences since 1605, helps us make better sense of exceptionalist thinking and behavior.

I'm now working on two books, a short one on Empirical Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century Novel (under contract with Cambridge University Press), and a longer one on Understanding Science Denial (under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press).

My courses at Colby are grounded in literature and literary history, but draw heavily on other knowledge domains, including history and philosophy of science, information theory, and political theory.

I'm also interested in journalism and in writing for the public. More than 65 of my essays have appeared in prominent venues including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Vox, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and others.


Books (peer-reviewed)
1. A World of Disorderly Notions: Quixote and the Logic of Exceptionalism
(University of Virginia Press, 2019)

Books In Progress
2. Understanding Science Denial
(under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press)

1. Empirical Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century Novel
(under contract, Cambridge University Press)

Journal Articles (peer-reviewed)
8. "Fanny Hill and the Legibility of Consent." ELH 86.4 (2019): 941-66.

7. "Perlocutionary Verse in Augustan England." Modern Philology 114.3 (2017): 657-79.

6. "Quixotism as Global Heuristic: Atlantic and Pacific Diasporas." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 46 (2017): 49-62.

5. "Margaret Cavendish's Anthropocene Worlds." NLH 47.1 (2016): 49-66.

4. "Toward a Counter-Poetics of Quixotism." Studies in the Novel 46.2 (2014): 141-58.

3. "Maids, Mistresses, and Monstrous Doubles: Gender-Class Kyriarchy in The Female Quixote and Female Quixotism." The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 55.1 (Spring 2014): 77-96.

2. "Re-Reading Gulliver as Quixote: Toward a Theory of Quixotic Exceptionalism." Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate 21.2-3 (September 2012): 278-303.

1. "Unworthy Global Citizens: Quixotic Influence and the Underhill Legacy in The Algerine Captive." Comparative American Studies 9.2 (June 2011): 119-30.


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