Katharina Metz


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin


since 2013 Doctoral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies. Freie Universität Berlin
2011 - 2013 John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
Master of Arts in North American Studies
2009 - 2011 John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
Bachelor of Arts in North American Studies and German Philology
2005 - 2008 Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
English, German, and Spanish Literature and Linguistics

Fellowships and Stipends

Sep 2015 — Feb 2016

Global Humanities Fellowship at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Stipend and Travel Grant issued by the network “Principles of Cultural Dynamics”, Dahlem Humanities Center, Freie Universität Berlin

June 2015

Participation at the Futures of American Studies Institute, Dartmouth College, NH. Travel Grant issued by the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

Aug 2008 — May 2009

University Scholarship at Indiana University, Bloomington, Graduate School. Full Stipend issued by the International Exchange Program between Universität Freiburg and IU Bloomington

Altruism in late Nineteenth-century American Literature

My dissertation project explores the various and competing meanings of the neologism “altruism” in late-nineteenth-century reformist social thought and literature in the United States. From its inception, altruism was understood as a scientific concept, due to its coinage within Auguste Comte’s positivism and the term’s dissemination in the English language via contemporary evolutionary theory. With an approach informed by the history of science and conceptual history, I focus on altruism’s capacity to reformulate other existing terms and concepts concerned with moral imaginations of the human good, such as the Christian notion of charity, the sentimentalist concept of sympathy, and the socioeconomic model of philanthropy. Embedded in a transdisciplinary field, the concept of altruism exhibits semantic flexibility and is therefore productive for a number of reformist and social projects, for example in discourses on and about woman reform, in popular sociological and evolutionary studies, in socialist and anarchist political thought, and in literary imaginations. Among other things, I analyze the reception of Comte’s and Herbert Spencer’s work in the United States, as well as four reformist magazines that have, as of yet, received no critical attention. 

The second aim of my dissertation is to ask what role the concept of altruism played for a variety of popular literary forms in the late nineteenth century. My analysis centers on the reformist realist novel. I conceive of reformist or social realism as a form that is wedged in-between the discourse of sentimentalism on the one hand, and utopianism on the other, an in-between position that results in a formal problem. I argue that altruism’s conceptual flexibility allows it to negotiate and tentatively solve some of the formal problems that constitute and challenge late nineteenth-century American reformist literature. In my readings, I concentrate on William Dean Howells’s reformist fictions and his utopian novels, on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s writings, and on other contemporary authors - most of which have been left unexamined by critics until now - who have written on and worked with the concept of altruism.


“Form, Reform, Reformulation: William Dean Howells’s Annie Kilburn” Literature, Ethics, Morality: American Studies Perspectives. SPELL: Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature 32. Ed. Ridvan Askin and Philipp Schweighauser. Tübingen: Narr, 2015, 159-173.

Selected Conference Presentations and Talks

May 2016
“Time and Narrative in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Feminist Utopia” Guest Lecture (invited) in the seminar “Woman in the 20th Century: Female Authorship in Twentieth-Century American Literature” Universität Freiburg

April 2016
“Nostalgic Utopias: Altruria and Herland” Conference: For What It’s Worth: Sustainability, Nostalgia, and the Values of the Present Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

April 2016
“Reformulations: Altruism and Social Reform in the Late Nineteenth Century” Research Colloquium, Political Science Department JFKI, Freie Universität Berlin

May 2015
“Knitting Together: Woman Reform in the Late Nineteenth Century” International Graduate Conference: “Alliances” Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

November 2014
“Altruism and Literary Form: William Dean Howells’s Realism” Biannual Conference of the Swiss Association of North American Studies Universität Basel, Switzerland

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft