Bethany Wiggin

Associate Professor of German

Founding Director, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities; Graduate Groups in Comparative Literature and English

735 Williams Hall
Thursdays 10:15 - 11:45 am, or by appointment in Van Pelt Library
CV (file):


Ph.D. University of Minnesota

Bethany Wiggin received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Her interests lie in the intersections between the early modern period and contemporary theoretical concerns, including global and transnational literature, translation and multilingualism, and the environmental humanities. While grounded in the cultural and political landscape of central Europe and the North Atlantic, her work increasingly charts global trajectories. A member of the core faculty in German where she is the Graduate Chair, she is also a member of the Graduate Group in the English department and the Program in Comparative Literature. She is the Founding Director of the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, now in its third year, an initiative of the Dean's Office of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Green Campus Partnership.

In 2016-17, she directs the Penn Humanities Forum's year on Translation. Also in 2016-17, she is co-organizing two conferences and related events, all exploring gatherings of research across the arts and sciences and public engagement in the environmental humanities: Timescales in October 2016 and An Ecotopian Toolkit in April 2017. She is the Dramaturg for A Period of Animate Existence, an opera about climate change made by Troy Herion, Mimi Lien, and Dan Rothenberg and others. In the spring of 2017, she holds a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship exploring Floating on Warmer Waters, designed to expand and thicken collaborative research in and along the Lower Schuylkill River in partnership with Bartram's Garden, Penn Libraries, Drexel University, and the Lower Schuylkill River Research Seminar. With Etienne Benson, she is a co-convener of Penn's Faculty Working Group in Environmental Humanities

Her first book—entitled Novel Translations: The European Novel and the German Book, 1680-1730 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 2011)—explores the new worlds opened to the imagination when reading first became a form of entertainment. This long process first blossomed with the creation of a transnational (French, English, and German) novel in the decades around 1700, a popular genre born of a boom in literary commerce.

A second monograph—Germanopolis: Utopia Found and Lost in Penn's Woods, 1683-1763 (under contract with Penn State UP)—investigates competing accounts of colonial Pennsylvania's past and future. The colony's legacy became a contest of pacifists versus imperialists, "sectarians" (Quakers, Mennonites, and seemingly countless others) versus "Churchmen" (Anglicans and Presbyterians, Lutherans and Calvinists), sometimes between English and German, and, more ominously, between "red" and "white," and between slavery's critics and its apologists.

With Catriona MacLeod, she is co-editor of Un/Translatables: New Maps for Germanic Literatures (in production with Northwestern UP), also a collaboration with Penn Germanics' Daniel DiMassa and Nicholas Theis.At present (summer 2015), Wiggin is editing Babel of the Atlantic (under advanced contract with Penn State UP), a volume of essays investigating multilingualism and politics in the colonial Atlantic, with an emphasis on Pennsylvania. With David Gramling, she has organized a fall 2015 seminar on "The Rise and Fall of Multilingualism" at the German Studies Association.

While on research leave in 2014-15, Wiggin was a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at the LMU in Munich where she was also affiliated with the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. While on leave, she gave invited lectures on pre-modern world literature at Princeton University and Stanford University; on environmental humanities at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Tennessee; and on colonial American multilingualism at the University of Tennessee and the University of Muenster.

In 2015-16, Wiggin will teach a graduate seminars on world and German literatures and both graduate and undergraduate courses in the environmental humanities, including Sustainability and Utopianism which now fulfills a general education requirement at Penn (Sector 4, Humanities and Social Sciences). Wiggin's interview about this innovative course--cross-listed with Environmental Studies; Science, Society, and Technology; English; and Comparative Literature-- appeared in the Penn Sustainability Review.

For German majors she regularly directs senior thesis projects and has taught seminars on German Orientalisms, Present Pasts, and "Censored!." Recent graduate seminars, cross-listed with Comparative Literature, include Early Modern Utopianism, Early Modern Cultural Translation, German Travel Writing, and Theory and Practice of the Novel.

Research Interests

Intersections between the early modern period and contemporary theoretical concerns including the environmental humanities, translation and multilingualism