Ellen Messer-Davidow

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Department of English .
Pillsbury Hall
310 Pillsbury Drive SE

I have always been interested in how things function--facts and theories, texts and discourses, academic disciplines and institutions, social movements and public policies. What, for instance, are the forms of discursivity used by scholars, activists, lawmakers, the media, and the public? How are explanations of the “same“ social phenomena constructed in these different arenas? How do interacting movements and institutions orchestrate change? What are the real-world impacts of action in or across these arenas? To answer questions like these, I oscillate among empirical research, theory, and practice. Practice has been an important part of my knowing about discourse and action--organizing women on campus during my graduate student days, serving on the MLA Commission on the Status of Women, chairing the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages, convening conferences on the new knowledge studies, coediting a book series and journal issues, and giving media interviews.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: English, University of Cincinnati, 1984.


  • literary, cultural, and social theory
  • the “new knowledge studies“
  • modern/contemporary American social movements (Civil Rights, New Left, Feminist, and Conservative)
  • certain areas of contemporary American public policy and law
Courses Taught
  • Engl 1902 America in Crisis
  • Engl 3090/4090 Probing the Social Text: Founding Ideas and Current Issues
  • Engl 3501 Civil Rights Discourse: Reading Between and Beyond the Lines
  • Engl 3960 Consumer Culture
  • Engl 8720 Crossdisciplinary Literary Studies
  • Glos 3602 Globalization: Capital and Culture
  • GWSS 4502 Women and Public Policy
  • Engl/CSDS Reading Foucault
  • EngL/CSDS 8910 Reading Marxisms
  • CSDS/CL 8510 Globalization: Capital and Culture
Research & Professional Activities


  • School of Criticism and Theory: Northwestern University, Summer 1985
  • "The Social Study of the Social Sciences and Humanities": Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, April 2005
  • "Feminism and Higher Education": Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, April 2006
  • Fellow: University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study, Fall 2007
  • DeFunis and Bakke Revisited: How Courts Transformed Systemic Racism Against Minorities into Reverse Discrimination Against Whites, in progress
  • Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.
  • (With David R. Shumway and David J. Sylvan) Knowledges: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,1993.
  • (With Joan E. Hartman) (En)Gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
  • (With Joan E. Hartman). Women in Print I: Opportunities for Women's Studies Research in Language and Literature. New York: MLA, 1982.
  • (With Joan E. Hartman). Women in Print II: Opportunities for Women's Studies Publication in Language and Literature. New York: MLA, 1982.
  • "Investing in Higher Education: Debtors, Bettors, Lender, Brokers." Special Issue: "Saving the Humanities from the Neoliberal University," ed. Ronald Strickland. Humanities 6 (2017): 19 pp.
  • "Situating Feminist Studies" (U.S. and India), Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, ed. Keith Brown, Robert Frodeman, Julie Thompson Klein, and Roberto Pacheco, 2nd ed. (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 214-229.
  • "Studying Power/Knowledge Formations: Disciplining Feminism and Beyond," for The 'Establishment' Responds: Power and Protest During and After the Cold War, ed. Katrin Fahlenbach, Martin Klimke, Joachim Scharloth, and Laura Wong (Oxford and New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2011). 57-73.
  • "Interdisciplinary Investigations and Cross-Sector Interventions," for Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice: Revisioning Academic Accountability, ed. Ranu Samantrai, Joe Parker, and Mary Romero. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010. 301-320.
  • “Caught in the Crunch.“ Double volume: Academic Freedom and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University, Works and Days 25-26 (2008-2009): 399-419.
  • “Why Democracy Will Be Hard To Do.“ Social Text 24.1 (Spring 2006): 1-35.
  • “Feminist Theory and Criticism: From the Movement to the Academy,1963-1973.“ Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Criticism and Theory. Ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 299-306.
  • “Rosenberger v. Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia: From Discourse and Dollars to Domination.“ South Atlantic Quarterly 98.1 (Fall 2001): 868-893
  • “The Struggle for the Academy.“ Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History. Ed. Mary Kupiac Cayton and Peter W. Willliams. 3 vols. New York: Scribner’s, 2001. Vol. 2, 237-251.
  • "Wither Cultural Studies?" From Sociology to Cultural Studies. Ed. Elizabeth Long. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. 489-522.
  • "Dollars for Scholars: The Real Politics of Humanities Scholarship and Programs." The Politics of Research. Ed. E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. 193-233.
  • "Acting Otherwise." Provoking Agents: Theorizing Gender and Agency. Ed. Judith Kegan Gardiner. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. 23-51
  • "Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education." Social Text 36 (Fall 1993): 40-80
  • McKnight-Land Grant Professorship, University of Minnesota, 1989 - 1992
  • Distinguished Alumna Award, University of Cincinnati, 1992
  • McKnight Research Award, University of Minnesota, 2002 - 2005
  • Scholar of the College, University of Minnesota, 2005 - 2008
  • Dr. Matthew Stark Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Faculty Award, University of Minnesota, 2009
  • Graduate School Grants-in-Aid of Research, 1988 - 1989, 1992 -