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Jessica Conrad received the Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in the Humanities for her dissertation, Boycott: Literary Interventions in the American Marketplace, 1820-1880. In this work, Conrad showed how activists of the 19th century used printed materials to disrupt the marketplace and achieve strategic political reform.
Conrad explored literature — pamphlets, periodicals, poems, novels, cartoons — that challenges its readers to recognize their power as consumers and more carefully align their wallets with their values. Conrad wrote that for women and people of color, such works of the 19th century represented “an ever-hopeful quest for long-denied political autonomy.”
Conrad made the case that boycotts are an American tradition, not a modern phenomenon, and they are “a major mode of dissent, especially for disenfranchised or politically marginalized groups.”
John Ernest, the Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor and chair of the Department of English, called the dissertation “stunning” and said Conrad “models a way of thinking about literature as a mode of investigation — an entrance into a complex cultural history rather than an artifact of the literary past.”
Martin Brückner, English professor, director of the Center for Material Culture Studies and Conrad’s adviser, called the work “intellectually innovative and rigorous.” He noted that one chapter of Conrad’s dissertation already has been published by the journal American Literature and a second has been solicited for publication in a collection of essays.
Anne M. Boylan, professor of history (emerita) said Conrad’s central argument “will energize and excite literary scholars” and her approach to the work “is both new and generative and represents the leading edge of a fresh approach to texts both familiar and obscure.”
Patricia Crain, professor of English at New York University, said Conrad’s work is a “significant contribution to U.S. literary and cultural history” with its “ambitious sweep, innovative research, original literary archive and subtle and far-reaching conclusions.”
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