Thomas Koenigs

Assistant Professor of English

Office Address: Miller 202
Office Phone: (909) 607-3544
Email: TKoenigs@scrippscollege.edu
Thomas Koenigs

Academic History

  • B.A. Johns Hopkins University
  • M.A., Ph.D. Yale University
  • (Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)

Areas of Expertise

Nineteenth-Century American Literature, African-American Literature, the Transatlantic Eighteenth Century, History of the Novel, Novel Theory, Gender and Sexuality, Historicism, and American Modernism.

Selected Research and Publications

Current Book Project: “Founded in Fiction”: Fictionality in the United States, 1789-1861.


  • “Whatever May Be the Merit of my Book as a Fiction: Wieland’s Instructional Fictionality,” English Literary History (ELH) 79.3 (Fall 2012).
  • “The Commonplace Walden,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 59.3 (Fall 2013).
  • “‘Nothing but Fiction’: Modern Chivalry, Fictionality, and the Political Public Sphere in the Early Republic,” Early American Literature (Forthcoming 2015).


My teaching and scholarship focus on American literature from the middle of the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. My research centers on recovering ways of reading and using texts from which we have become historically estranged. It is broadly historicist, drawing on book history, the history of reading, and public-sphere theory. I am currently at work on a book project entitled “‘Founded in Fiction’: Fictionality in the United States, 1789-1861.” In this period, American writers interrogated the dangers and possibilities of diverse forms of fiction, seeking to harness the mental processes elicited by different forms of fiction—evaluations of possibility, identification with suppositional persons, considerations of counter-factual scenarios—for a range of pedagogical, political, and religious projects. By approaching fictionality as a set of historically variable structures of supposition rather than a stable, genre-defining characteristic, “Founded in Fiction” seeks to restore to view the varied logics of fictionality that the history of the novel has tended to normalize, including many that do not conform to the conception of fiction-reading as a private leisure activity that became ascendant in the late 19th century. The project is a history of the ways in which these diverse forms and theories of fiction shaped how Americans addressed issues ranging from national politics to gendered authority to the intimate violence of slavery.

In my scholarship I seek to highlight the dynamism of literary history, showing how the past’s frameworks for understanding and using texts destabilize our assumptions about literature. The same interests underlie my teaching, which centers on helping students view literature as an ongoing process rather than a collection of static objects. I frequently lead students into online archives to urge them to think about the incredibly varied forms in which a text circulated before it appeared in a paperback critical edition. In my classes, we pay close attention to how authors take up old thematic materials and formal strategies and fashion them anew to address the social, aesthetic, and political concerns of their moment. Whether examining Zora Neale Hurston’s use of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagery or Junot Díaz’s engagement with Melville’s legacy, I try to emphasize how literature responds to its own historical moment without ever losing sight of how texts can be re-interpreted as means of grappling with problems that their authors could never have imagined.

Courses Taught

  • American Literature to 1865
  • The Slave Narrative and the Novel of Slavery