Brittain Fellow Kent Linthicum Wins ACLS Fellowship

Kent Linthicum Headshot

Posted April 27, 2021

The American Council of Learned Societies—a federation of 75 scholarly organizations including the Modern Language Association; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and the National Council of Teachers of English—announced its latest class of fellows, which includes the Writing and Communication Program’s own Kent Linthicum.

Dr. Linthicum became a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech in 2018. Since then, he has taught first-year composition courses for the Writing and Communication Program with themes including abolition and decarbonization; indigenous sovereignty; environmental humor; and climate change games.

Linthicum credits his successes to what he’s learned through the Brittain Fellowship: “Interdisciplinarity was always an important part of my work. To really understand the environment and culture, I think it is absolutely necessary to look at those topics from a range of different disciplines including science, environmental studies, and literature. At Tech and through the Writing and Communication program I really came to see the potential breadth of interdisciplinary collaboration and conversation. I am very fortunate; for instance, I've been able to work with the Serve-Learn-Sustain program and also to expand my knowledge of the history of engineering here.”

ACLS President Joy Connolly said in a statement that this year’s awardees and their work represent an “exciting diversity”: “ACLS is deeply proud to support emerging scholars of special promise and to advance important research representing perspectives on the human experience that have traditionally been marginalized.”

Dr. Linthicum will use the fellowship to finish his book, Crowning Coal: Slavery, Fossil Fuels, and Literature 1755–1865. The book combines the energy humanities with long-nineteenth century literary studies. Linthicum says the book pushes back against the ‘just-so’ stories of industrialization: “Our traditional narrative is that the rise of the steam engine ultimately replaced manual labor and specifically the labor of enslaved peoples. There is evidence though that, in fact, the rise of the steam engine and the industrialization of coal had the opposite effect on enslaved peoples, encouraging countries like the United States to expand slavery pushing out further West and colonizing more space to use for cotton monoculture which would then be sold to mills in Britain. My work seeks to understand how media played a role in the expansion of both coal and slavery. In the nineteenth century people were aware of the violence caused by slavery and by coal use. I want to show how the media of the era helped people ignore this violence as a parallel to the ways we ignore our own fossil-fueled crises and their environmental injustices.”

Ultimately, Linthicum hopes his work can help add to the conversation around modern energy transitions: “If we understand the cultures that licensed the transitions to fossil fuels and the expansion of slavery, maybe we can reverse engineer our culture to transition away from fossil fuels and towards a more environmentally just future.”