Rachel Heise Bolten is a doctoral candidate in English at Stanford University. Her research interests include American literary and visual culture, history of science and technology, and environmental humanities.
Her dissertation, “To Describe America, 1835-1967,” explores a long century of American description, and brings together writers and artists whose work becomes an urgent attempt to capture fleeting experience and fragile object-life amid environmental and social loss, and to articulate frontiers—imperial boundaries, the limits of scientific or sociological knowledge—categories and qualities that coalesce in the American West. Beginning with Audubon and the painter George Catlin, her project moves through time—and across genres—to reveal a diversity of descriptive practice, and its response to an evolving national identity and sense of place. From photographs made for the United States Geological Survey or railroad corporations, to souvenirs from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, to the founding of Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, she uses close reading and close looking to give greater texture to a history of American description, in which description of the West, a regional imaginary, plays a primary role.
Rachel received her MPhil in Criticism & Culture from Cambridge University, and holds an AB in English with a certificate in American Studies from Princeton University. Her writing has appeared in The Nation and Bookforum.