I am a scholar of U.S. and Latin American literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, my first book and my current projects reflect a transnational approach to the cultural history of capitalism. They address a common broad question: how are our local and national identities shaped by and through popular economic and political narratives? My book, A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016) explores how Americans have mapped the hemisphere from the mid-19th century to the end of the Cold War in terms of an economic geography in which the United States was a rich nation among poor ones. The most common term for this geography and condition of poverty has been “underdevelopment,” a term from the social sciences that has also drawn on cultural generalizations about the origins and the spaces of poverty.

Since I arrived at Wayne State, I have also taught and writen about the history and culture of Detroit, especially in the ways its image circulates outside the city–as the Motor City, Motown, the Arsenal of Democracy, and the city of ruins.

My new project, Keywords for the Age of Austerity, is an evolving online work of historical etymology and cultural criticism. I trace the history of economic concepts in the mass media, uncovering the history and common use of popular terms like “accountability,” “entrepreneur,” and “innovation.”


University of Chicago, B.A., English (2001)

NYU, Ph.D., Comparative Literature (2008)

Other Publications

A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016)

“4 Million Freedmen and 1 Bronzed Body: Cuba’s 10 Years’ War in U.S. Culture, 1868-1874,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (forthcoming)

“Havana Reads the Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Nicolás Guillén, and the Dialectics of Transnational American Literature,” Comparative Literature Studies 47: 2 (2010)

“America’s Other Half: New York Slum Journalism and the War of 1898,” The Journal of Transnational American Studies 1: 1 (2009)

“TV Urgente: Urban Exclusion, Civil Society, and the Politics of Television in Venezuela,” Social Text 27: 2 (2009)

“From the Capital of the Nineteenth Century to the Paris of the Caribbean: Vertigo and Modernity in G. Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13: 2 (2004)

Blog Posts

    John Patrick Leary

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