John Patrick Leary

John Patrick Leary

Associate Professor of English

 5057 Woodward Ave., #10201


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John Patrick Leary

I am a scholar of U.S. and Latin American literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, my first book and my current projects reflect a transnational approach to the cultural history of capitalism. They address a common broad question: how are our local and national identities shaped by and through popular economic and political narratives? My book, A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016) explores how Americans have mapped the hemisphere from the mid-19th century to the end of the Cold War in terms of an economic geography in which the United States was a rich nation among poor ones. The most common term for this geography and condition of poverty has been “underdevelopment,” a term from the social sciences that has also drawn on cultural generalizations about the origins and the spaces of poverty.  

Since I arrived at Wayne State, I have also taught and written about the history and culture of Detroit, especially in the ways its image circulates outside the city--as the Motor City, Motown, the Arsenal of Democracy, and the city of ruins. 

My new project, Keywords for Late Capitalism, is an evolving work of historical etymology and cultural criticism. I trace the history of economic concepts in the mass media, uncovering the history and common use of popular terms like “accountability,” “entrepreneur,” and "innovation." The project can currently be found online, but a book version of be published in 2018 by Haymarket Books. 

Research Interest/Area of Expertise

  • Transnational American Studies

    U.S. and Latin American literature, 19th and 20th centuries


Education – Degrees, Licenses, Certifications

  • Ph.D., , Comparative Literature, New York University (2009)

Awards and Grants

  • 2016: Online Teaching Fellowship, Wayne State University Office for Teaching and Learning 
    2015: Wayne State University, University Research Grant
    Wayne State University Humanities Center, Faculty Fellowship
    2012: Notable Essay, Best American Essays, for “Detroitism
    Wayne State University, University Research Grant
    2011: American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA, Petersen Fellowship
    2009: American Comparative Literature Association, A. Owen Aldridge Prize for Best Comparative
    Essay by a Graduate Student
    Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowship, 2009
    2008: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS Early Career Fellowship Program Dissertation Completion
    2005: J. William Fulbright Fellowship, Venezuela Program

Selected Publications

Much of the work below is available on the web or via the Wayne State University Library's Digital Commons


A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016)

Scholarly articles

“4 Million Freedmen and 1 Bronzed Body: Cuba’s 10 Years’ War in U.S. Culture, 1868-1874,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (forthcoming)

“Havana Reads the Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Nicolás Guillén, and the Dialectics of Transnational American Literature,” Comparative Literature Studies 47: 2 (2010)

“America’s Other Half: New York Slum Journalism and the War of 1898,” The Journal of
Transnational American Studies
1: 1 (2009)

“TV Urgente: Urban Exclusion, Civil Society, and the Politics of Television in Venezuela,”
Social Text 27: 2 (2009)

“From the Capital of the Nineteenth Century to the Paris of the Caribbean: Vertigo and Modernity in
G. Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13: 2 (2004)

Public Scholarship

"The Poverty of Entrepreneurship: The Silicon Valley Theory of History," The New Inquiry

“Why Donald Trump is Not America’s Hugo Chávez,” NACLA Report on the Americas

"Trump and Chavez: Strongman Personas, Weak Comparison," featured guest, On the Media, WNYC

“Officer-Involved-Obfuscation,” Jacobin

“I Miss Ruin Porn,” BBC Cultural Frontline, BBC World Service 

“El fenómeno Sanders y el socialismo en Estados Unidos” [The Sanders phenomenon and socialism in the United States], Nueva Sociedad, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan.-Feb. 2016

“Flint’s Bottom Line,” Jacobin, Jan. 27

“How ‘Robust’ Got Big, The Awl, Oct. 13

“Detroit on $1 Million a Day: A Response to Ben Austen,” Guernica  (with Joshua Akers)

“Austerity Economics is like a Kick in the Groin: Robocop’s Lessons for Our Time,” Guernica 

“Detroitism: What Does ‘Ruin Porn’ Tell us About the Motor City and Ourselves?” Guernica

"Can't Forget the Motor City: Detroit Photography by Detroit," Guernica 

Currently Teaching

  •  English 2390: Introduction to African-American Literature (Literature and Writing): The Literary History of African American Humor

    English 5450: Good Grief! Humor and Tragedy in Modern American Literature