Center Faculty Affiliate Abram Van Engen Wins NEH Fellowship

line drawing of three people talking, one with a micrphone, superimposed on a wall of newspaper clippings

Abram Van Engen, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The support will allow Van Engen to continue work on his second book, a project entitled, “A Model of Christian Charity”: A History of the Reception of John Winthrop’s 1630 City on the Hill Sermon.

According to Van Engen, “this project is a biography of John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” Nearly four centuries after it proclaimed New England a “city upon a hill,” this sermon has become a foundational text of American history and literature. Yet in its own day, it went unrecorded, unpublished, and almost entirely unnoticed. Found and first published in 1838, Winthrop’s sermon gradually became important, achieving status as an American classic only in the mid-twentieth century. This study asks how it rose and with what effects. Ever since its rebirth, I show, competing interpretations of the text have offered contending visions of American community and purpose. Drawing on studies of American exceptionalism, the history of emotions, book history, and the history of reading, my biography of Winthrop’s sermon becomes, finally, a history of “the meaning of America” as it has emerged from–and been contested in–rediscoveries, reinventions, and reinterpretations of America’s literary past.”