Denise Xu


Denise Xu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. She specializes in the literature, culture, and criticism of the early Americas, with emphases in transpacific studies, comparative colonial studies, and ecological theory. Before beginning her graduate work, Denise earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University. An adapted version of her thesis on Thoreau’s botanical sketches and Chinese translation notebooks has since been published in ELH (2021).

Her dissertation project, titled “Enchanted Stems: Human Vegetizing in the Long Nineteenth-Century Americas,” examines plant-person hybridity in conjunction with the period’s biopolitical constructions of race, empire, and ecology. By focusing on opium poppies, plantains, and cotton, the project engages four major historical processes: the emergence of botany and ecology as both scientific and amateur fields of study; the subsistent and resistant uses of vegetal life on plantations; the expansion of transoceanic trades in vegetables, drugs, and laborers; and the appropriation of indigenous knowledge through settler-colonial bioprospecting.

Denise has taught courses across the departments of English and African American Studies. She was an Assistant in Instruction for ENG360: Modern Fiction and a co-instructor, with Professor Eduardo Cadava, for the seminar “Mourning America: Emerson and Douglass.” She has also taught through Columbia University’s Freedom and Citizenship program and the Teagle Humanities Fellowship.

In addition to her research and teaching, Denise co-chairs the interdisciplinary Ecotheories Colloquium.