608 S Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
Leah Marie Becker is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently finishing her dissertation—“Living Clean and Shopping Green”—which uses what she calls “environmental domesticity” to trace a prehistory of current eco-conscious consumer behaviors to nineteenth-century domestic ideology, white femininity, and American literature. Her scholarship has appeared in Studies in American Fiction, Edge Effects, and Render: Food and Feminist Quarterly. Her non-scholarly interests include drawing, baking, gardening, and snuggling with her Scottie dog, MacDougal.
- C19 American Literature
- Environmental Humanities
- C19 American Domesticity
- Women's Literature
My dissertation, “Living Clean and Shopping Green: Environmental Domesticity and the Nineteenth-Century Roots of Ecoconsumption,” traces current ideas of green capitalism and ecoconsumption back to nineteenth-century domestic ideology. I structure this prehistory around a concept I call “environmental domesticity”—a collection of ideologies and practices that treat domestic space as an environment in and of itself that can stand apart from, blend with, or absorb natural, outdoor space. Using “environmental domesticity” as an analytical lens, I examine an archive of texts that defined the model American woman as a white, middle-class domestic sentry, responsible for controlling the purity of the American domicile in its many forms, from the southern plantation to the urban metropolis. Using excerpts from domestic manuals, memoirs, fiction, and ad campaigns, my project elucidates how classist and racist theories of purity merged with consumer practices over the course of the nineteenth century to form a new kind of home economics based on purchasing, rather than production. This fusion, I argue, helped establish the myth that white femininity and the environmental control it promised could be achieved by purchasing specific, “ethical” products (such as “free produce”) or by shopping at union-friendly, “white label” stores. Building on critiques of white femininity from Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Ida B. Wells, and other women who publicly recognized that such power was ultimately—and, indeed, purposefully—unattainable for the average American woman, my project illuminates how the impossible standards laid out in white women’s directives ultimately trapped the female shopper in a perpetual cycle of consumption and shame that is mirrored in modern ecoconsumption. By establishing this prehistory of ecoconsumption, my dissertation ultimately explodes the scholarly binary between environmental studies and domesticity studies, illustrating how domestic literature can help inform and disrupt extractive capitalism’s seemingly endless loop or production and consumption.
- MA English Literature, New York University, 2017
- BA English Literature, University of Portland, 2014
Internal Graduate Fellowships:
- Dr. Nina Baym Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2023-2024
- Decyk Fellowship, Summer 2023
- UIUC English Department Fellowship, 2022-2023
- President's Diversity in Research Travel Award, 2022
- Illinois Distinguished Fellowship, 2017-2022
External Research Fellowships:
- Clements Library, University of Michigan: Jacob M. Price Short-Term Fellowship, 2022-2023
- Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University: Dissertation Grant, 2022-2023
Awards and Honors
- English Department Undergraduate Teaching Award, 2020
- LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by a Graduate Student, 2021
- UIUC Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, 2021
- ENGL 116: Introduction to American Literature (Instructor of Record)
- ENGL 250: Nineteenth Century American Fiction (Instructor of Record)
- RHET 105: Writing and Research (Instructor of Record)
- ENGL 255: Early American Literature and Culture (Teaching Assistant)
Additional Campus Affiliations
- UIUC Students Advising Graduate Education: Board Member, 2021-2023
- UIUC CAS Academic Standards Committee: Graduate Representative, 2020-2022
"The Minister's Wooing's Calvinist Sentiment: The Secular Versus Secularization." Studies In American Fiction, vol. 48 no. 2, 2021, p. 151-174. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/saf.2021.0013.
"What 19th-Century Domestic Manuals Say about Housing as Infrastructure." Edge Effects, April 15, 2021. https://edgeeffects.net/housing-as-infrastructure/
“Reconciling Julia Child and Rachael Ray: Is there Room in the Kitchen for Foodies, Convenience-loving Cooks, and Feminists?” Render: Feminist Food and Culture Quarterly, 2014. 39-43. http://www.renderfoodmag.com/the-magazine-1.