Stephen J. Mexal

Contact Information

Office: GH-432

Voice: 657-278-2632

Dept: 657-278-3163

Stephen J. Mexal



My research focuses on the multiple ways in which imaginative narratives participate in American political life.  My book, Reading for Liberalism, examines literary representations of political liberalism in nineteenth-century California, but my interest in the connections between narrative and civics has led me  to write about subjects as wide-ranging as Mexican travel narratives from the 1830s to hip-hop in the 1980s.  I regularly teach both halves of the American literature survey (ENGL 221 and 222), as well as The Frontier in American Literature (ENGL 326), Nineteenth-Century American Literature (ENGL 460), and various graduate seminars.


2007, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder

2001, M.A., University of Colorado, Boulder

1999, B.A., University of New Mexico

Research Areas

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century American culture; political theory and the history of liberalism; ecocriticism and theories of wilderness; the American west; literary professionalism and the business of universities; popular culture.

Courses Regularly Taught

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature; the literary history of the American west; literary realism and naturalism; ethnic American literature.


The Conservative Aesthetic: Theodore Roosevelt, Popular Darwinism, and the American Literary West. Lanham: Lexington/Roman & Littlefield, 2021.

Lincoln's Westerner: The Short Fiction of Noah Brooks [Ed.]. Los Angeles: KDP, 2020.

Reading for Liberalism: The Overland Monthly and the Writing of the Modern American West Opens in new window . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

"Mark Twain's Quest to Bring Affordable Watches to the Masses." Smithsonian.  6 August 2019.

"Darwin's Anachronisms: Liberalism and Conservative Temporality in The Son of the Wolf." The Oxford Handbook of Jack London. Ed. Jay Williams. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 259-276.

"My dear Judge': Owen Wister's Virginian, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and Natural Law Conservatism." Western American Literature 51.3 (2016): 279-311.

“Closing Deals with Hamlet’s Help: Assessing the Instrumental Value of an English Degree.”  Coauthored with Sheryl I. Fontaine.  College English 76.4 (2014): 357-378.

“The Roots of ‘Wilding’: Black Literary Naturalism, the Language of Wilderness, and Hip Hop in the Central Park Jogger Rape.”  African American Review 46.1 (2013): 101-115.

"Don't Be Afraid of Going to Graduate School in the Humanities.Opens in new window ."  Pacific Standard. 13 June 2013.

“Toward a Transnational Liberalism of the Left: Positive Liberties and the West in Carlos Bulosan’s ‘America.’”  Regionalists on the Left: Radical Voices from the American West.  Ed. Michael C. Steiner.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.  303-326.

“Recovering a Lost Voice of the American West: Liberalism and Historical Narrative in the Short Fiction of Noah Brooks.”  ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance58.4 (2012): 566-600.

“The Starbucks Myth: Measuring the Work of the English Major.”  Coauthored with Sheryl I. Fontaine.  ADE Bulletin 152 (2012): 36-46. 

“Why the Right Hates English.”  Inside Higher Ed.  18 May 2012.

“The Quality of Quantity in Academic Research.”  The Chronicle Review.  22 May 2011. 

“Realism, Narrative History, and the Production of the Bestseller: The Da Vinci Codeand the Virtual Public Sphere.”  The Journal of Popular Culture 44.5 (2011): 1085-1101. 

“The Unintended Value of the Humanities.”  The Chronicle Review.  23 May 2010. 

“Two Ways to Yuma: Locke, Liberalism and Western Masculinity in 3:10 to Yuma.” THe Philosophy of the Western.  Eds. Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010.  69-87.

“The Logic of Liberalism: Lorenzo de Zavala’s Transcultural Politics.” MELUS 32.2 (Summer 2007): 79-106.

“Material Knowledge: Democracy and the Digital Archive.” English Language Notes45.1 (Spring/Summer 2007): 123-135.

“SpectacularSpectacular!: Underworld and the Production of Terror.” Studies in the Novel 36.3 (Fall 2004): 318-335.

“Consuming Cities: Hip-Hop’s Urban Wilderness and the Cult of Masculinity.”  Eco-Man: New Perspectives on Masculinity and Nature . Ed. Mark Allister.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.  235-247.

Office Hours

Fall 2023

MW 12:00pm - 1:30pm