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Sean Meehan

Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing

Professor Meehan began teaching at Washington College in 2008. His past teaching experiences include teaching at Morningside College (Iowa) and the University of Iowa as well as teaching English in secondary schools, Mercersburg Academy (Pennsylvania) and Newark Academy (New Jersey).

Professor Meehan takes his passion for pedagogy and nonfiction writing into his role as Director of Writing, where he works with faculty and students on all aspects of the college’s writing program, from first-year writing seminars to writing intensives to senior capstones, as well as coordinates “Literature and Composition” (English 101). He is currently teaching an English 101 course subtitled “The Gutenberg Progenies,” a course that explores intersections of writing and technology from Frankenstein to Google. You can browse the course web site and blog (Comp\Post) to see what he and his students have been reading and writing. Other recent courses (and course sites) include American Environmental Writing (Fall 2010), Introduction to Nonfiction (Spring 2010), and Transcendentalism: Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson (Fall 2011). Professor Meehan is also excited to be teaching the Humanities component of the new Chesapeake Semester.

His current work in progress, Emerson’s School, a study of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson and his interests in education and learning, combines Professor Meehan’s research interests in Emerson and American transcendentalism with his expertise in the history and theory of writing pedagogy. His goal is to create a scholarly study that will look forward as well as back into a rich period and figure of American educational and literary history, a study that can inform and inspire a wide range of educators in the practice and theory of what Emerson calls “living learning.” Recent pieces of this project have explored Emerson’s relationship to the environmental writer Henry David Thoreau and the philosopher William James. Professor Meehan is also working on a second project that explores screenwriting as an analogy for academic writing and argument..

In addition to his office, the library, and any number of campus events sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society, the C.V. Starr Center, the Literary House, and Sophie Kerr—despite, or as he argues, because of, his considerable interest in virtual publication, he still loves to see writers in person—you will find Professor Meehan on the tennis courts, on his bike, or possibly in a kayak with his wife, Mary, and his two children, Maisie and Hugh, and with their retriever, Annie Dillard, close behind.


  • Ph.D. English, University of Iowa, 2002.
  • M.A. English, SUNY Buffalo, 1996.
  • A.B. English, Princeton University, 1991.

Published Work


Mediating American Autobiography: Photography in Emerson, Thoreau, Douglass, and Whitman. University of Missouri Press, 2008.

Both photography and autobiography involve a tension between disclosing and concealing their means of production: a chemical process for one, the writing process for the other. Professor Meehan examines how four major authors—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman—were well aware of this tension and explored it in their work. By examining the implications of early photography in their writings, he shows how each engaged the new visual medium, how photography mediated their conceptions of self-representation, and how their appropriation of photographic thinking created a new kind of autobiography.


  • “Ecology and Imagination: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Nature of Metonymy.” Criticism (forthcoming).
  • “Education after an Earthquake: Emerson’s Lessons in Panic and Pedagogy.” Pedagogy (Spring 2011).
  • “‘Nature’s Stomach’: Emerson, Whitman, and the Poetics of Digestion.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (Winter 2011).
  • “‘You Are the Book’s Book’: Robert Richardson’s Emersonian Workshop.” Pedagogy (Winter 2010).
  • “Photography.” The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • “Text Minding.” Digital Humanities Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  • “Pencil of Nature: Thoreau’s Photographic Register.” Criticism. (Winter 2006).
  • “Living Learning: Lessons from Emerson’s School.” Emerson Society Papers (Fall 2006)
  • “Emerson’s Photographic Thinking.” Arizona Quarterly (Summer 2006).
  • “Specimen Daze: Whitman’s Photobiography.” Biography (Fall 1999).

Scholarly And Teaching Interests

  • Autobiography and Creative Nonfiction
  • Digital Humanities
  • Environmental Writing
  • Literature and other Arts/Media
  • Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture
  • Writing Pedagogy

Honors And Affiliations

  • American Literature Association
  • Emerson Society
  • Magna Cum Laude, Princeton University
  • National Council of Teachers of English
  • Phi Beta Kappa: Member and President (2011-2012) at Washington College’s Theta chapter
  • Presidential Fellow, University of Iowa (1996-2001)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association Fellow, Houghton Library, Harvard University (2005-2006)
  • Thoreau Society