Monica Huerta is a cultural and literary historian of the nineteenth and twentieth century United States, and an assistant professor in English and American Studies at Princeton University. 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.
Her current research focuses on notions of involuntarity and expression and their relationship to identity in literature, law, and science. She is working on two manuscript projects, among other, smaller projects.
The first book manuscript, The Unintended: Fractal Histories of Photography and Property in American Culture follows the little-known trajectory of photography through legal categories and cases to make a broader argument about making knowledge (like law) about being and art from within and as part of racial capitalism. Photographs, of course, come to play a central role in exactly these enterprises: making knowledge about being, through portraiture, medicine, and science; and about art, through the ways in which the medium prompts questions about traditional aesthetic values. To organize its chapters, the manuscript uses the network of property protections (copyright, publicity, privacy, reputation) under which cases about photographs are argued in the latter half of the 19th century. In these cases, the book emphasizes the making of expression into property to focus our attention on a broad, epistemological shift, that, it argues, is made most evident through analyzing re-scriptings of the meanings (and diagnoses) of failures of control. These ascriptions of control’s absence, it argues, are central to the practice and idea of property-making. Subsequent chapters follow other cultural threads as they re-script and mobilize the edges of a person’s control: performance cultures, literary realisms, and mind sciences. The Unintended proposes that tracking and analyzing how each of these sensed and speculated the horizons of intention, control, autonomy, will, volition offers, first, another way into the making of knowledge about being and art, and second, that this historical reading practice offers an alternative vantage into the everyday aesthetic workings of racial capitalism.
The second book 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 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.
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 November 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 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,” “Historical Fiction / Fictional History,” and “Introduction to American Studies.”
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 Link-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow at the Princeton Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and 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, the University of California, Berkeley, 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.