Department Directory

Ezra Greenspan

Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Chair in Humanities

Ph.D., Brown University

Ezra Greenspan is a literary and cultural historian who studies and teaches the history of written communications and media in the United States - from manuscript and print to digitalia.  His interests include the history of writing, printing, and publishing; of institutions of letters such as libraries and schools; of the interplay between letters and visual images; of archives and archiving; and of the historic uses of written communications, especially by ethnic groups such as African Americans and Jews.  

Those interests underlie his practice of writing biography.  His most recent books are comprehensive biographies of the publisher G. P. Putnam and of the writer-activist William Wells Brown.  His current project is a multigenerational family biography to be called The Lives and Times of Frederick Douglass and His Family:  A Composite Biography

He offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on all periods of literature and culture in the United States.  Recent offerings include courses on the history of print and digital culture in America, modern Jewish literature and culture, and period surveys of American literary and cultural history. 

Courses taught

  • History of the Book in America
  • Authorship in America
  • Nineteenth-Century African American Literature
  • Modern Jewish Literature

Publications (selected)

  • Walt Whitman and the American Reader (1990)
  • George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher (2000)
  • “Song of Myself”: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition (2005)
  • William Wells Brown: A Reader (2008)
  • Editor: William Wells Brown: Clotel and Other Works (NY: Library of America, 2014)

  • Co-editor, vol. 17 of Book History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)


Upcoming Reading and Interviews

  •  Sept. 11 (Politics and Prose, Washington, DC)
  • Sept. 12 (Center for the Book, Library of Congress, Wash., DC)
  • Sept. 17 (University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.)
  • Oct. 7 (Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC)
  • Nov 6 "Black Book Talk," on KBOO FM (Portland, OR) (Listen Here)

  • Nov 14 NPR-PRI's "The World" (Listen Here)


Review of William Wells Brown: An African American Life in New York Times Book Review (Nov. 17, 2014) - (Read it here)

William Wells Brown: An African American Life in New York Times Book Review Selected as "Editor's Choice,"- New York Times (Nov. 23, 2014)

Greenspan on Whitman v. Trump -

National Endowment for the Humanities commendation:

Greenspan recent public lecture: "The Matter of Black Lives: Writing the Biography of Frederick Douglass and His Family"