Rebecca Summerhays

Rebecca Summerhays
Faculty emerita
B.A., M.A., University of Utah ; Ph.D., Brown University

Rebecca Summerhays

Visiting Lecturer in the Writing Program

My research interests include nineteenth-century British literature and science, narrative theory, and feminist theory.


In my academic writing, I focus on nineteenth-century accounts of the human body in a range of genres, including fiction, poetry, natural theology, medical writing, and evolutionary theory. I am particularly interested in how novels—by authors including Mary Shelley, the Brontës, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, and Stoker—represent human feeling in the era that came to understand the body as a conglomeration of independent parts and the brain as just one of many seats of perception. In the texts I study, feeling is often described as a network of impulse that neither originates nor ends with the boundaries of any single body. If human beings partake of the kind of affinity that draws birds to certain flowers, or unites a swarm of bees, what, if anything, makes us uniquely human?

These research interests, combined with my interests in visual art and feminist theory, inform my teaching. In all of my courses, I aim to empower my students by helping them understand that when they write, they enter scholarly conversations they can potentially shape. With this aim in mind, I enjoy collaborating with campus departments and organizations—including the Davis Museum, the Wellesley Archives, and the Book Arts Lab—to create projects that ask students to analyze texts and contexts that have received little, if any, scholarly attention. When students use their writing to illuminate what has remained hidden in plain sight—and therefore to create new knowledge—they intuitively understand the larger stakes of their projects. Their writing, in turn, takes on a strong sense of purpose that I hope my students carry with them well beyond our course.

Beyond the classroom, I am a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. I love to swim and take long walks—I have hiked the Inca trail, the Camino de Santiago, and the Coast to Coast trail in England. I enjoy sewing, knitting, and binge-watching British crime dramas.