Skip to main content


The Lawrence Ruff Endowed Chair in 18th Century Studies

A semester-long visiting position offered every two years.

This position is designed to bring in expertise to enrich our programs and to spark new scholarly exchange within and across departments. The Ruff Chair is required to teach a seminar and give a public lecture on recent research in the field.

Most Recent Recipient: Kirk McAuley

ENG 490 Research Seminar-Literature

Public Lecture:

“St. Domingo was formerly a garden”: Capitalism, Domestic Abuse, and the ‘Botany of Desire’ in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History will be presented on November 26, 2019, 3:35-4:50 p.m. in HM 257.

Drawing upon Enlightenment ideas about marriage, agriculture, and political economy, including J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur’s provocative Physiocratic claim, in his Letters from an American Farmer, that, “men are like plants,” this presentation will explore the gender politics and significance of human-non-human relations in Leonora Sansay’s novel about the Haitian Revolution, Secret History; Or, The Horrors of St. Domingo. That Sansay chooses to not make Haitian independence her primary object of study, but, instead, focuses upon the horrifyingly misogynistic, amorous intrigues of Europeans, I argue, invites readers to reconsider the brutal nature of Capitalism in the Caribbean. Instead of avarice, the passion whose rehabilitation by Enlightenment philosophers neatly coincides with Capitalism’s rise, Sansay relies upon a series of non-human metaphors to link European agribusiness to gender injustice: a sexual violence towards women that – not unlike the history of sugar cane (Saccharum officnarum L.) itself – knows no geo-political, racial, ethnic &/or religious boundaries. It is a distinctly gendered botany of desire that Sansay posits as the ‘secret history’ of Capitalist exploitation in the Caribbean.

About Kirk McAuley

Kirk McAuley received his Ph.D. in British and American literature from the State University of New York, University at Buffalo in 2006. Since then he has taught in the Expository Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma, and the Division of Humanities at New College (the honors college) of Florida. He joined the English Department at Washington State University (WSU) in August 2008.

McAuley is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, UK (2015 – 2016), and he was a Research Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, VA (May 2011). McAuley received an ASECS-Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies Summer Fellowship at the University of Notre Dame in 2018.

McAuley’s first book, Print Technology in Scotland and America, 1740–1800 (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2013), investigates the mediation of popular-political culture in Scotland and America, from the transatlantic religious revivals known as the Great Awakening to the U.S.. His current book project advances our understanding of the literary legacy of contemporary ecological crises through close investigation of the interfaces of nature and culture in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts composed mainly by authors (or about persons) residing at the so-called edges of the British Empire: the Caribbean and Pacific islands. Beginning with Robinson Crusoe and James Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane, McAuley offers biotic readings of this literature, in order to highlight the human place in nature, as well as to provide practical literary examples of the ways in which, as Margaret Cohen observes, oceans ‘knot together’ both geographical spaces and timelines. A most recent publication that ties directly into this project would be “Walking and Weeding in a Shrinking World: The Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson,” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Volume 26, Issue 3, Summer 2019, Pages 570–593. Also available online at

Visit McAuley's website for more information.

Past Recipients

Spring 2014: David Brewer, Ohio State University

Spring 2016: Cynthia Richards, Wittenberg University

Spring 2018: Jodi Wyett, Xavier University