Denise Xu

Department of English

Denise Xu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. Her dissertation project, tentatively 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 ginseng, tea, opium, and indentured laborers; and the appropriation of indigenous knowledge through settler-colonial bioprospecting.


Before beginning her graduate work in 2019, Denise earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her senior thesis theorized what she called “Thoreau’s econational poetics” by attending to his botanical sketches, translation notebooks, and engagements with Asian literature. An adapted version of this essay has since been published in ELH (Fall 2021).

Person Category
PhD Students