Visual Culture, Literarure & Ethnicity


Miles Orvell is Professor of English and American studies, with a broad interest in modern American culture. He has taught courses on technology and culture, cities and suburbs, the arts in America, documentary film, and American photography. In the last six years, Orvell has focused his research on the cultural meaning of place, and he has co-edited a collection of essays,  Public Space and the Ideology of Place in American Culture (Rodopi, 2009). He recently completed an interdisciplinary study called, Main Street: Myth, Memory, and the Dream of  Community (2012), which recovers the complex and contradictory cultural meanings of the small town at the same time that it problematizes the icon of Main Street. Orvell has published on a wide range of literary subjects, including a book on Flannery O’Connor, and essays on Willa Cather, William Faulkner, and Theodore Dreiser. 

His The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 deals with literature, photography, and material culture, and was co-winner in 1990 of the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Publication Prize. Orvell’s work in visual culture includes After the Machine: Visual Arts and the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries (1995), and John Vachon’s America: Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II (2003); he has also written a history of photography in the United States--American Photography--for the Oxford History of Art Series (2003). Orvell has presented papers and lectured widely at conferences and universities in the U.S. and Europe and was a Fulbright Professor of American Studies in Denmark (1988).  He has directed six N.E.H. Summer Seminars for School Teachers—on  Documentary Expression in the Thirties and on Ethnic Autobiography. Active in the American Studies Association, Orvell served as Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia of American Studies Online, published by Johns Hopkins University Press from 2004 to 2011.  In 2009, he received the Bode-Pearson Prize for lifetime achievement, awarded by the American Studies Association, and in 2010 received one of the University’s “Great Teacher” awards.

Selected Publications

  • Invisible Parade: The Fiction of Flannery O’Connor (1972), republished with a new preface as Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction (1991)
  • The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (1989; 25th anniversary edition with new preface, 2014). John Hope Franklin Publication Prize of the American Studies Association.
  • After the Machine:Visual Arts and the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries (1995)
  • American Photography, Oxford History of Art Series (2003; second revised edition 2016).
  • John Vachon’s America: Photographs and Letters from the Great Depression to World War II (2003)
  • Public Space and the Ideology of Place in American Culture (2009), Co-editor with Jeffrey Meikle.
  • The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community (2012). Finalist, Zócalo Public Square Book Prize for Best Book Published on Community and Social Cohesion.
  • Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue (2013), Co-editor with Klaus Benesch.

Courses Taught


  • Survey of American Literature (I) and (II)
  • Modern American Fiction
  • Documentary Photography
  • American Photography
  • Place as Symbol


  • American Literature of 20th/21st centuries
  • Theory and Methodology of American Literary Study
  • Photography and Literature