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Bio

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College. I also teach in and serve on the Advisory Board for the program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), and teach a range of interdisciplinary courses on British literature and the Enlightenment.

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 pursuit of 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 60 of my essays have appeared in prominent venues including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticThe New RepublicThe Los Angeles Review of BooksVoxThe Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and others.

I completed my doctorate in English at the University of Oxford in 2012, and hold prior degrees from Bucknell University and Dartmouth College. At Oxford I was a member and CR president of Linacre College.

Raised in Pittsburgh, PA, I ran Division I track and cross country at Bucknell, where I was an All-Conference and IC4A All-East selection multiple years.

Twitter: @AaronRHanlon

Agent: William Callahan at InkWell Management

Colby College Faculty Bio