Monica Huerta is a cultural and literary historian of the nineteenth and twentieth century United States. Her research and teaching interests include 19th and 20th century American literature, including African American and Latinx, visual culture, photography, legal studies, and science studies. After her tenure at the Princeton Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, in the fall of 2019, she will join the Princeton faculty as an assistant professor in English and American Studies.
Her current research as a Link-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow focuses on notions of expression and its relationship to identity in literature, law, and science. At Princeton, she is working on two manuscript projects, among other, smaller projects.
The first, Ghosts Seen in the Law: Photography and the Problem of Expression in 19th Century America, offers a critical historical account of the legal quandaries of property and personhood that new instantaneous cameras worked within and amplified in the adjudication of expressions and authorship in America. The manuscript uses theories of property (in which the living ghosts of slavery and capitalism linger and thrive) and the network of property protections (copyright, publicity, privacy, reputation) under which cases about photographs are argued in the latter half of the 19th century to organize the chapters. Each chapter takes on a different idea of “expressions” in fundamental cases that helped determine what it meant that photographs might have an author, or used as objective evidence, or could have metaphysical connection to their subject. It is with these shifting senses of “expression” that the arc of modernism’s development (through figures like Paul Strand and Stieglitz) intersects with and helps exfoliate and situate the legal struggles over images. The argument is invested in the contingent, material processes by which we come to identify through notions of ownership with our image, and in that way revive perhaps the oldest notion of property, property in the self. The coda will be a story about the very contemporary afterlife of this idea of owning the self, and the tangles through which this organizing relationship to the self keep us from other, freer futures.
The second project, Face Poetics asks a series of seemingly simple question of the multi-disciplinary archive of studying and reading faces: why do we think we are reading when we look at a face? Does what we think reading is draw on how we think about the legibility of a face? And how much does thinking faces/bodies are legible affect our notions of what it means for a text to be legible at all, of what literariness is, and how expression and communication are conceived over time? These questions open out to complicated meditations on features as form, skin and face-surface as mediums, facial expressions as an unstable semiotic system, and facial expressions as a first-poetics. Beyond claims of the knowability of facial expressions or the question of whether faces produce knowledge, the manuscript sidesteps questions of facticity in order to treat faces as imperfect, unreliable “stages” for identity and individuality. These unreliable stages, our imperfect performances, Face Poetics argues, betray the pleasure of the limits of reading, the tangles we identify as literariness, as philosophy, and shed more light on the empirical utopianism of scientific enterprise.
Dr. Huerta's work has been generously supported by Princeton University, Duke University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Mellon Mays Fellowship, the Ford Foundation, the New York Public Library, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Social Science Research Council, among others.
In the fall of 2019, with Professor Carolyn N. Biltoft (Graduate Institute, Geneva), she will host an experimental, interdisciplinary symposium and workshop, “The Poetics of Material Life.” The symposium is being generously supported by the following bodies at Princeton: the Council in the Humanities, the Center for Human Values, the English Department, and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. The papers from this experimental workshop will be collected in a special issue of UPenn's new journal, History & Capitalism, forthcoming the following year.
Dr. Huerta has taught many different kinds of courses, including, “We Out Here: An Introduction to Latino Literatures,” “Imagining Slavery & Gender,” “Translating America,” “About Faces: Case Studies in the History of Reading Faces,” and “Introduction to American Studies.” In the Spring of 2019 she will co-teach a new course at Princeton with Professor Chihaya, “Historical Fiction / Fictional History.” The course and its multi-year development as one of the new gateway courses in the English Department is being generously supported by the 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education.
Dr. Huerta received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley; she also holds an M.A. in History from Princeton University and a B.A. in History & Literature from Harvard University. She was most recently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Duke University, where she was housed in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. She has also taught at Rutgers University, Pace University, and the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Her work has appeared or will appear in J19: The Journal for Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, Critical Analysis of Law: An International and Interdisciplinary Law Review, and American Literature.