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David Ball
Assistant Professor of English


phone: 717.245.1116
fax: 717.245.1942






B.A., Stanford University, 1998; M.A., Princeton University, 2003; Ph.D., 2007.  His research and teaching are in 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, minority and oppositional responses to the American experience, and American modernism.

I have been teaching as an Assistant Professor of English at Dickinson College since 2007. My areas of expertise include nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature and culture, American modernism, graphic narratives, and literary theory. These eclectic interests shape both the form and content of my classes, which are all structured as multidisciplinary inquiries into the ways that literary study informs, and is informed by, other fields of knowledge. Philosophical and historical analysis, film and visual studies, popular culture and language theory are all materials that can enrich a classroom discussion in the search for points of intellectual intersection between literary texts and extra-literary contexts. Put into practice, this means asking such questions as: What defines the modern? Can a text be considered “American” in an increasingly globalized world? Is a democratic art possible? Can comics become literature?

As I continue to teach, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a choral approach is the best way to begin to formulate answers to these questions. My syllabi invariably incorporate multicultural texts, both from canonical and non-canonical authors, and my teaching philosophy relies heavily on dialogic, student-generated intellectual exchanges. I’ve also become increasing motivated in my desire to break down the dividing wall between the classroom and the rest of world, focusing on experiential learning opportunities in classes—and organizing faculty-student colloquia, reading groups and other means of intellectual exchange on the Dickinson campus.

I’m currently working on two book projects. The first stems from my doctoral studies at Princeton University, where I wrote a dissertation entitled False Starts: The Rhetoric of Failure and the Making of American Modernism, 1850-1950. I argue that one of the defining literary gestures of American authors in the modern period is what I’ve called “the rhetoric of failure”: the romance and celebration of failure as a watchword for literary success. This counterintuitive, but extremely prevalent discourse, motivates everything from authors’ first articulations of literary prestige in the mid-nineteenth century, to responses to demographic changes in the American citizenry and the failures of universal democratic principles in the twentieth century. Particularly important writers for me in this study include Melville, Emerson, Wharton, Adams, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Ellison. I incorporate a range of interpretive approaches, including everything from material culture studies to poststructural language theory, to evaluate the uses of failure for American writers.

One area where this rhetoric of failure is especially prevalent is in the contemporary graphic novel, which spurred my interest in my second book: an edited collection of critical essays on the work of Chris Ware titled The Cult of Difficulty: Critical Approaches to the Comics of Chris Ware. Ware is the author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Quimby the Mouse (2003), and The ACME Novelty Library Annual Report to Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Fun Book (2005), all book-length comics with the texture and density of literary fiction. Ware is in many ways the James Joyce or Vladimir Nabokov of cartoonists, using the visual and linguistic capabilities of comics to produce intricate and nuanced narratives that draw inspiration from an astonishing array of creative sources. My co-editor, Professor Martha Kuhlman at Bryant University, and I are bringing together essays that chart these multidisciplinary influences and begin to explicate how Ware’s graphic narratives can answer important questions in the fields of American art and literature, comics history, disability studies, critical race theory, and visual studies, among many others. The Cult of Difficulty is forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi in 2009.

On this page you’ll can find my curriculum vitae, some sample course syllabi, and a few favorite links to sites around the web. Students can find me in my office at 308 East College or electronically at


For American literature and intellectual stimulation:

The Making of America (an amazing collection of nineteenth-century American periodicals):
The Voice of the Shuttle (like falling down the intellectual rabbit hole):
ArtStor (to feed my growing interests in image and text studies):
Bookforum (to learn about all of the amazing things I still need to read):
Abebooks (to buy those books used from independent bookstores):
The ACME Novelty Archive (all things Chris Ware):
The New York Times (“All the News That’s Fit to Print”):

In the News:

Patriot News Article on Graphic Narratives Class
The Sentinel Article on Discussing the classic novel
Extra Features Article on Challenging Literature

For fun:

Dinosaur Comics (brilliant):
The Nietzsche Family Circus (disturbing, but brilliant):
The Daily Show (the best thing on TV):
This American Life (the best thing on radio):


ENG101: “Graphic Narratives,” Spring 2008

ENG212: “American Success, American Failure,” Spring 2008

ENG364: “Multicultural American Modernism,” Spring 2008

ENG101: “Americans Abroad,” Fall 2007

ENG212: “Democratic Fictions,” Fall 2007



Susan Perabo, Chair star icon
Kelly Winters-Fazio, Department Coordinator star icon

English Department Dickinson College
PO Box 1773, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 17013-2896
Tel. 717-245-1347 star icon Fax. 717-245-1942

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