Don James Brown earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania in July 2017, after completing a dissertation titled “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature,” under the direction of Heather Love, Max Cavitch, Nancy Bentley, and Chi-ming Yang. The dissertation traces the emergence of the -phobia suffix in American print culture as a diagnosis, political metaphor, and aesthetic sensation in the 18th and 19th centuries. In January 2016, an essay from the project was published in The New Republic, titled "The Anti-Slavery Roots of Today's "-Phobia" Obsession." Another essay from the project is currently forthcoming in Literature and Medicine.
In and beyond this research, Don James' scholarship focuses on 18th- and 19th-century literary movements in the Americas; queer historiography; the medical humanities; critical race theory; and the history of emotion. While a doctoral candidate in 2014, he had the privilege of collaborating with Connie King, Curator of Women's History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, on an exhibit titled "That's So Gay: Outing Early America." The show documented various instances of queer life in early America across an array of materials at LCP, from rare books to bawdy stereographs, comic valentines, and other ephemera. Research for his dissertation and first book project has been supported by the Penn Humanities Forum, American Antiquarian Society, and Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.