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Peter Conn

Vartan Gregorian Professor of English

Fisher-Bennett Hall 113


Peter Conn retired from Penn as Vartan Gregorian Professor of English and Professor of Education, and was a member of the graduate groups in the history of art and American civilization, a member of the urban studies and Asian-American studies faculties, and an affiliated member of the Center for East Asian Studies. His publications include The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917 (Cambridge University Press, 1983; paperback editions, 1988 and 2008), and Literature in America (Cambridge University Press, 1989), which was a main selection of Associated Book Clubs (UK). Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1996; Paperback 1998), was chosen as a "New York Times Notable Book," was listed among the best 25 books of 1996 by Publishers Weekly and among the best books of the year by Library Journal, was included among the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography, and received the Athenaeum Award.


Conn's The American 1930s: A Literary History, was published by Cambridge in 2009.  Adoption: a Brief Social and Cultural History, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013. His latest book, Thomas Sully’s Philadelphians: Painting the Athens of America, will be published by the American Philosophical Society Press in 2024. He has published editions of Washington Square, by Henry James, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, and Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. In 2009, The Teaching Company released Conn's video course and book on "American Best Sellers."


Conn's books and chapters have been translated into eight languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Romanian, and Korean. He has lectured at numerous American universities, and internationally in Ireland, England, Russia, Romania, Korea, Thailand, Japan, and China. He has also given talks at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other institutions, on a number of American artists, including Edward Hopper, William Christenberry, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Maxfield Parrish, Charles Sheeler, Winslow Homer, Wharton Esherick, and The Eight. 


A John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Conn has directed National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) seminars for college and high school teachers, and was the recipient of an NEH Humanities Focus grant. He has received several awards for distinguished teaching, including the Ira Abrams award, the Mortarboard Award, and the Lindback Award, the university's senior teaching prize. Conn has served on the selection committee of the PEN Albrend award for non-fiction.


He has received the Exemplary Leadership Award of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. From 1987 through 1995, Conn acted as senior consultant on curriculum development to the Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools.


Conn has served as literary consultant on numerous television projects, including the Emmy-winning series, "The American Short Story," adaptations of novels by James Baldwin and Saul Bellow, and a video biography of John Dos Passos. He served as principal literary advisor to "Oprah's Book Club" for The Good Earth. His teaching projects have included College 005: The Great Books; English 401: Teaching American Studies, which places undergraduates as teaching assistants in a Philadelphia high school; English 886, a graduate course that combines the study of literature and composition with teacher training; and, for the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia, a course in children's literature.


Since 1993, Conn has served as visiting professor at the University of Nanjing, in the People's Republic of China. In 2011, and again in 2013, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Conn lectured in West China on topics in American studies. 


Conn has served as Dean of the College, executive director of the Philadelphia Committee for College Placement, chair of the graduate groups in American Civilization and English, Faculty Master of Robert Hill College House and Community House and deputy and interim provost. He was the founding Faculty Director of Civic House, the university's center for community service, and the co-founder and director of the Urban Education minor program. Chairman Emeritus of the Welcome House adoption agency, he has chaired the Major Gifts committee of the Pennsylvania/Delaware chapter of JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  


From 2016 to 2019, Conn served as Executive Director of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.


Peter Conn and his wife Terry have four children, Steven, David, Alison, and Jennifer, and (at last count) eight grandchildren.




Doctoral Dissertations Chaired


Carol Schilling "Imagining Science: Narrative, Discovery, and the Double Helix"


Cheryl Blanche Butler "The Art of the Black Essay: From Meditation to Transcendency"
Melissa Homestead "Imperfect Title: 19th-Century American Women Authors and Literary Property"


Jill Wacker "Becoming Suitable: Self-Fashioning and the Rag Trade in American Literature, 1865-1925"


Ann Hostetler "Telling the Story of the Past: History, Identity and Community in Fiction by Walter Scott, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Leslie Silko"


Rick Kerin "The Korean War and American Memory"


Melissa Croghan "Alcohol and Art in 19th Century American Fiction: Studies of Poe and Stowe"
Ellen Gruber Garvey "Commercial Fiction: Advertising and Fiction in American Magazines, 1880s to 1910s"


Andrew Levy "Free Fiction: individual and Institutional Visions of the American Short Story, 1842-1982"


Wendy Vardaman "Constructing Houses: The Representation of Home in 20th Century American Autobiography"


Douglas Buchholz "Allegory and the Modern American Fiction Canon"


Scott S. Derrick "Anxiety, Gender, and Realism: James, Dreiser, and the Dilemmas of American Masculinity"
Peter Dorsey "The Rhetoric of Conversion in Early Twentieth-Century American Autobiography"


Louis S. Gross "The American Gothic Novel and the Challenge of Generic Convention"
Karin Lindblad Yanoff "The Rhetoric of Medical Discourse: An Analysis of the Major Genres"


Jeanee Campbell "'Interest' and 'Design': Problems of Narrative Epistemology in the Late Novels of Henry James and William Faulkner"
Carol Kuniholm "Multiplied Visions: Henry James's 'The Better Sort'"


Edward F. Palm "American Heart of Darkness:The Vietnam War in Fact, Fiction, and Film"


James C. Hess "Literary Production and Consumption"


Lydia Carolina Gordon "Sylvia Plath (1932-1963): A Critical Study "

Courses Taught

fall 2016

ENGL 486.640 American Bestsellers  

spring 2016

ENGL 264.301 The American 1930s canceled  

spring 2015

ENGL 286.301 American Bestsellers  

spring 2014

ENGL 486.640 The American 1930s  

fall 2011

ENGL 260.301 Henry James and Others  

fall 2010

ENGL 044.001 American Bestsellers  

spring 2010

ENGL 104.401 The 20th-Century  
ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

fall 2009

ENGL 359.301 Transatlantic Modernism  
ENGL 593.301 American Bestsellers  

fall 2007

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

spring 2007

fall 2006

fall 2002

ENGL 386.301 The American 1930s  

fall 2001

fall 2000

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

spring 2000

ENGL 016.302 The City: History, Literature, Art canceled  

fall 1999

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

fall 1998

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

spring 1998

ENGL 104.401 The Twentieth Century  
ENGL 588.640 The American 1930's  

fall 1997

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

fall 1996

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

spring 1996

ENGL 588.301 The American 1930's  

fall 1995

ENGL 401.401 Teaching American Studies  

fall 1979

ENGL 094.001 Major British Writers