Alan Niles

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities

20142015 Forum on Color

Alan Niles


Alan Niles is a PhD student in the English Department working on a dissertation on the early modern literary culture of mourning and commemoration. His research draws on theories and methodologies from the history of the book and the history of religion as well as postcolonial criticism and trauma studies. He is currently a dissertation fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. 

Black and White as Writing Technologies in the Pre-modern Anglophone Atlantic, ca. 1500–1700

My research project, part of a larger dissertation on the early modern literary culture of mourning and commemoration, directs attention to the emergence of new symbolic functions of black color in the early modern print culture of loss. At the turn of the seventeenth-century, newly encoded ritual links between death and the display of black cloth translate into a set of print conventions used to mark and distinguish memorial texts as a specific, distinct category of writing. The unusual technology of “negative” woodblock printing employed to represent these symbolic effects offers insights into early modern conceptualizations of the experience of loss—as disruption, as inversion, or as aporia. At the same time, these print innovations register a larger nexus of historical shifts in the material production and cultural perception of black color with broad implications not only for mourning ritual but also across discourses of race and religion.