Department of English and American Language and Literature
Barker Center, Harvard University
12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-3879
phone: (617) 495-2533
fax: (617) 496-8737

Essay Collections | Studies | Editions & Translations | Associations | Contact
The Longfellow Institute Series at Johns Hopkins University Press

Founded in 1994 at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and directed by Marc Shell and Werner Sollors, the Longfellow Institute was designed to support the study of non-English writings in what is now the United States and to reexamine the English-language tradition in the context of American multilingualism. Named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the polyglot nineteenth-century poet who, in his translations and academic work, helped to develop literary study across linguistic boundaries, the Institute has set itself the task to identify, and to bring back as the subject of study, the multitudes of culturally fascinating, historically important, or aesthetically outstanding American texts that were written in many languages, ranging, for example, from works in indigenous Amerindian languages, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Polish, Yiddish, Hungarian, Chinese, and Japanese, to Arabic and French texts by African Americans.

The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature: A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations was published by New York University Press The anthology offers a first sampling of what the English-only approach to American literature has missed: Omar Ibn Said's 1831 African-American slave narrative written in Arabic. Dafydd Morgan, the only American immigrant novel published in Welsh. Theodor Adorno's dream transcripts, in German. A short story by "Yi Li" (Pan Xiumei) about the politics of abortion in working-class Chinatown. "Lesbian Love," a surprisingly explicit chapter from an 1853 New Orleans novel. A haunting 1904 ballad, "The Revenge of the Forests," that is one of the first expressions of radical environmentalism in the United States. A reexamination of Angel Island poetry and its two differing English translations. The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature brings together American writings in diverse languages from Arabic and Spanish to Swedish and Yiddish, among others. Presenting each work in its original language with facing page translation, the book provides a complement to all other currently available anthologies of American writing, and will serve to complicate our understanding of what exactly American literature is. American literature appears here as more than an offshoot of a single mother country, or of many mother countries, but rather as the interaction among diverse linguistic and cultural trajectories.

Note: The NYU Press text of Omar Ibn Said's narrative was recorded by Ossie Davis and is accessible on the web at Angel Island poems can be heard, in Cantonese or Mandarin, at

Essay collections

A companion volume of essays is Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of America, edited by Werner Sollors ( Arguing that multilingualism is perhaps the most important form of diversity, Multilingual America calls attention to--and seeks to correct--the linguistic parochialism that has defined American literary study. By bringing together essays on important works by, among others, Yiddish, Chinese-American, Turkish-American, German-American, Italian-American, Norwegian-American, and Spanish-American writers, this collection presents a fuller view of multilingualism as a historical phenomenon and as an ongoing way of life.

Another volume of essays is the collection American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni (ISBN 0-674-00661-5), edited by Marc Shell; it is part of the Harvard English Studies series published by Harvard University Press If ever there was a polyglot place on the globe (other than the Tower of Babel), America between 1750 and 1850 was it. Here three continents--North America, Africa, and Europe--met and spoke not as one, but in Amerindian and African languages, in German and English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. How this prodigious multilingualism lost its voice in the making of the American canon and in everyday American linguistic practice is the problem American Babel approaches from a variety of angles. Included are such topics as the first Arabic-language African-American slave narrative, Greek-American bilingual books, Yiddish women poets, Welsh-American dramatists, Irish Gaelic writing, Creole novels, a Zuni storyteller; and in essays on Haitian, Welsh, Spanish, and Chinese literatures, the contributors trace the relationship between domestic nationalism and immigrant internationalism, between domestic citizenship and immigrant ethnicity.

Orm Øverland's collection Not English Only: Redefining "American" in American Studies appeared in Rob Kroes's series "European Contributions to American Studies" at the VU Press in Amsterdam (ISBN 9053837566). It brings together Longfellow Institute work from various conferences, with contributions on Afro-Creole, Spanish, Ladino, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Polish, Hebrew, Japanese, and Chinese-language aspects of American culture.

A more specifically focused volume of essays, German? American? Literature?: New Directions in German-American Studies (ISBN 0-8204-5229-7), coedited by Winfried Fluck and Werner Sollors, is available from Peter Lang It presents case studies and general issues in German-American literature from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries, and from Pastorius's multilingual Bee-Hive to contemporary German-American authors.

Heike Paul and coedited the special issue "Multilingualism and American Studies" for the journal of Amerikastudien/American Studies vol. 51, n. 1 (2006), with contributions on Spanglish, "Dutch" dialect writing, Solger's Anton in Amerika, Japanese-language senryu poetry, and other topics.

Gönül Pultar edited a special issue of the Journal of Comparative American Studies, vol. 4, n. 3 (September 2006) on the topic of "Writing American in Languages Other than English." It includes essays on writing in Turkish, German, Norwegian, French-Canadian, and Chinese as well as on problems of multilingualism and literary history.


Steven G. Kellman's The Translingual Imagination (University of Nebraska Press) is the first comprehensive study of authors around the world who write in more than one language ("ambilinguals") or in a language other than their primary one ("monolingual translinguals"). A companion volume is Steven G. Kellman's collection Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft (University of Nebraska Press)

Orm Øverland's definitive study and comprehensive overview of Norwegian-language writing in the United States, The Western Home: A Literary History of Norwegian America and his book Immigrant Minds, American Identities: Making the United States Home, 1870-1930 have been published by the University of Illinois Press.

Xiao-huang Yin's Chinese American Literature since the 1850s (University of Illinois Press) is the first book on Chinese American Literature in English and Chinese. Yin's book significantly enlarges the scope of Chinese and Asian American studies. This body of literature, including works by immigrant writers such as Chen Ruoxi, Yu Lihua, and Zhang Xiguo, reflects the high percentage of Chinese Americans for whom the Chinese language remains an integral part of everyday life.

Peter Conolly-Smith's Translating America: An Immigrant Press Visualizes American Popular Culture, 1895-1918 (Smithsonian Institution Press) examines the three major German-language newspapers of New York City, the bourgeois-conservative Staats-Zeitung, the socialist Volkszeitung, and Hearst's Journal, and explores the links between immigrant assimilation and popular culture in the years leading up to World War I. 

Editions and Translations of Texts

Christoph Lohmann's edition of Ottilie Assing's writings, entitled Radical Passion: Ottilie Assing's Reports from America and Letters to Frederick Douglass (Peter Lang, ISBN0-8204-4526-6), presents eighty essays and reports on the United States (1852-1865) by the German-American journalist Ottilie Assing (1819-1884) in their first English translation by the editor, along with 27 letters from Assing to her intimate friend Frederick Douglass in the years 1870-1879.

Two plays by the first African American playwright, Louisiana-born Creole of color Victor Séjour who wrote in French, have been published by the University of Illinois Press, edited and introduced by M. Lynn Weiss, in their first English translation by Norman R. Shapiro.

The Jew of Seville (Diégarias), first performed in 1844, is the story of Jacob Eliacin, a Jew, during the Spanish Inquisition. Eliacin had been humiliated and beaten by the uncle of his Christian lover, Bianca. The couple had fled to Greece, where Bianca had died in childbirth. Eliacin, who amassed great wealth, had assumed the name Diégarias and had raised daughter Inés a Christian. Twenty years later, as the play opens, Diégarias is now a prominent member of the court at Seville, where Inés encounters and is seduced by Don Juan in a sham marriage. When he discovers Don Juan's treachery Diégarias demands that the nobleman marry his daughter. But a self-serving Moor reveals the truth of Diégarias's identity to Don Juan, who then publicly refuses to marry a Jew's daughter. After this humiliation, Diégarias retreats to plot revenge.

Séjour's mature tragedy The Fortune Teller (La Tireuse de cartes) was first performed in 1859, just one year after six-year-old Edgardo Mortara was baptized by a maid and removed from his Jewish home by the Bologna inquisitor. In Séjour's touching rendering of the Mortara case, the infant girl Noémi is taken from her Jewish family. Seventeen years later, Noémi's widowed and wealthy mother, Geméa, masquerades as a poor fortune-teller in search of Noémi, who she suspects is living with the Catholic Lomellini family under the name Paola. In exchange for money to pay her husband's ransom, Bianca Lomellini reveals to Geméa that Paola is indeed the long-lost Noémi. Neither Jew nor Christian, the young woman grapples with her identity, testing the bonds of family.

The bilingual volume Creole Echoes: The Francophone Poetry of 19th-Century Louisiana, edited and introduced by M. Lynn Weiss and published by the University of Illinois Press, makes available an amazingly rich collection of Louisiana poetry, both in the original French in which the poems were first published and in new English translations by Norman R. Shapiro. Culled from journals like l'Album Littéraire and books like Les Cenelles, this collection brings together an impressive variety of highly accomplished verse: poems of love and of history; of nightmares and savannahs, melancholy adaptations of Heinrich Heine and political panegyric addressed to Ida B. Wells, recollections of childhood in the wilderness along the Mississippi and lines occasioned by urban incidents, invocations of the muse and addresses to an American beloved, reminiscences of a Mulatress from Santo Domingo and poetological reflections in an age of censorship, somber elegies and whimsical poetic surprises, evocative songs about moonlight and rhymed animal fables with an attached moral.

Perhaps the single best German-language novel published in the United States was Reinhold Solger's Anton in Amerika: Novelle aus dem deutsch-amerikanischen Leben (1862). Part crime thriller, part travelogue, part picaresque novel, it also reveals much about the process of how an immigrant writer took up German ideas and values and adapted them to an American context, thus producing a literary work that comments upon German, American, and German-American life. It was published in its first English translation by Lorie Vanchena by Peter Lang

Irene Di Maio's edition of Gerstäcker's Louisiana: Fiction and Travel Sketches from Antebellum Times through Reconstruction, ISBN 0-8071-3146-6, was published by Louisiana State University Press. A global traveler and adventurer, the German author Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816–1872) also lived near Shreveport and in the areas of Bayou Sara, St. Francisville, and Pointe Coupée—then considered the most beautiful garden and plantation land along the Mississippi River. He fully engaged himself in exploring Louisiana—its landscapes, peoples, and Peculiar Institution. Being both an insider and an outsider to Louisiana, he was a remarkable raconteur and a highly popular author. His immensely popular writings conveyed the tenor of southern life to a German-speaking audience. Now, compiled and translated into English by Irene S. Di Maio, they offer a window on nineteenth-century Louisiana across several decades of growth and upheaval. See

Longfellow Institute Series at Johns Hopkins University Press

Johns Hopkins University Press is publishing the official Longfellow Institute series which presents works of general interest, typically in their first English translations.

Volume 1 is the lyrical novel A Saloonkeeper's Daughter by the Norwegian-American woman writer Drude Krog Janson in the first English translation by the late Gerald Thorson who also wrote the foreword for this edition. It is the story of a young, beautiful, and pensive woman Astrid Holm, the daughter of a stern bourgeois merchant and a melancholy actress, who, after her mother's death and the failure of her father's business, follows him from Norway to Minneapolis--where none of the Old World maxims seem to apply any more and where her new identity is that of A Saloonkeeper's Daughter. The central part of the novel shows the heroine's attempt to find her own way in difficult courtship situations and, ultimately, as minister and companion of a woman doctor. The edition was prepared by Orm Øverland who also wrote the introduction and the notes.

Volume 2 is the German-American Ludwig von Reizenstein's The Mysteries of New Orleans, a sensationalist novel inspired by Eugène Sue. It is a daring novel full of intrigues and gothic horror as well as comedy and social satire. Its many intricate plots and subplots include the awaited birth of a black messiah, interracial romances, as well as an unusually candid representation of lesbian love. One is not surprised that the publication of this roman-à-clèf met with some difficulties and resistance. The novel is published here in its first English translation by Steven Rowan who also wrote the introduction. The book was reviewed in the New Orleans Times Picayune The German original of this novel, Die Geheimnisse von New Orleans, was published by Éditions Tintamarre (Shreveport, 2004) ISBN 0-9723258-4-0.


The Modern Language Association has a permanent Discussion Group on "Literature of the United States in Languages Other Than English." If you would like to join the group, please mark "L2" on your MLA membership form.


Please direct inquiries to Marc Shell or to Werner Sollors at:

Department of English and American Language and Literature
Barker Center, Harvard University
12 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-3879
phone: 617 495-2533
fax: 617 496-8737