MacArthur Fellows Program

Laura Otis

Literary Scholar and Historian of Science | Class of 2000

Literary Scholar and Historian of Science
Hempstead, New York
39 at time of award
Published July 1, 2000

About Laura's Work

Laura Otis is a writer whose research crosses the boundaries of comparative literature, the history of science, and social history, creating a new analytic approach at their interface

Otis’s work illuminates the unexpected interrelationship of scientific advances and literature in the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries.  Her first book, Organic Memory: History and the Body in the Late Nineteenth & Early Twentieth Centuries (1994), describes how the now-abandoned biological postulate of heritable memories manifested in literature, philosophy, and psychology at the turn of the previous century.  More recent work focuses on a metaphor of communication, exploring how nineteenth-century technology—such as the telegraph—reflected the transformation of social relations.  These books demonstrate how specific scientific and technical developments can take on larger metaphorical meanings that permeate political and literary discourse.  She is also the author of Membranes: Metaphors of Invasion in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Science, and Politics (1999) and Networking: Communicating with Bodies and Machines in the Nineteenth Century (2001) and the editor of Nineteenth-Century Literature and Science: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (2002).


Otis is a professor of English and liberal arts at Emory University.

Otis earned a B.S. (1983) from Yale University, an M.A. (1985) from the University of California, San Francisco, and an M.A. (1988) and Ph.D. (1991) from Cornell University. 

updated January 1, 2005

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