Michael J. Colacurcio

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Michael J. Colacurcio
Born (1939-07-02) July 2, 1939 (age 79)
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Occupation Professor, scholar, educator
Nationality United States
Genre American literature
Subject Puritanism, 19th Century American literature, Hawthorne
Notable works The Province of Piety, Doctrine and Difference, Godly Letters

Michael Joseph Colacurcio (born July 2, 1939) is a Distinguished Professor of English at UCLA. He specializes in American literature and literary history.

Biographical information[edit]

Michael J. Colacurcio, circa 1979

Education and academic career[edit]

Michael Colacurcio studied at Xavier University (B.A., 1958; M.A., 1959) and the University of Illinois (Ph.D., 1963). He taught English literature at Cornell University from 1963 to 1976 (during the 1968-1969 academic year he taught at the Ohio State University). Since 1980, Colacurcio has taught in California, first at the University of California at Irvine, then at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he currently teaches in the Department of English.


Colacurcio's main interest is American literature of the colonial and Romantic periods. While he has written extensively on such subjects as Puritanism, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, he is perhaps best known for his scholarship on the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Province of Piety

In The Province of Piety, Colacurcio argues against symbolist or psychologizing interpretations and maintains that Hawthorne's fiction ought to be understood primarily as historical literature, that is, as it reflects on the moral history of his native New England.

Hawthorne "possessed the mind of a modern intellectual historian," according to Colacurcio, who compares his subject to the American historian Perry Miller: "For like Miller, it may be suggested, Hawthorne carried on a life-long dialectic with the historical 'thesis' of American Puritanism; it was his 'flood subject,' exercising a tyranny that bent the mind and baffled choice."[1] And as a writer of fiction, "Hawthorne had a nearly flawless sense of the way some text always comes between the observer and the origins he would observe, making the historian's own tale twice-told at its very most original."[1]

Critical reception

Historian David Levin says, "Mr. Colacurcio's massive study, more powerfully than any other single work I know, advances our understanding of Hawthorne's development and practice as a historical writer," adding: "Whether or not we can read Hawthorne intelligently or profitably without knowing the history of colonial New England, Mr. Colacurcio proves that we will read Hawthorne more intelligently if we take the trouble to see the range and depth of his historical judgment."[2] Literary critic Merton Sealts, Jr. notes that "The Province of Piety has significant interdisciplinary implications," and that, "future critics of Hawthorne cannot ignore the impressive argument of this book."[3]

Other works

Colacurcio's Doctrine and Difference is a collection of writings that demonstrate the lasting influence of Puritan orthodoxy in the New England literary tradition, with essays on Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and others.

His more recent book, Godly Letters, a study of the Puritan tradition in American literature, is described by a reviewer in The New England Quarterly as "an illuminating and deeply searching compendium that embodies the culmination of a lifelong career in research and teaching."[4]


Michael Colacurcio is the recipient of several distinguished teaching awards from both Cornell University and UCLA.[5]

In 2007, Colacurcio was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of his contributions to his field.[6]


  • The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne's Early Tales. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1984. ISBN 0674719573
  • (Editor): New Essays on "The Scarlet Letter". Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1985. ISBN 0521319986
  • Doctrine and Difference: Essays in the Literature of New England. Routledge, New York and London 1997. ISBN 0415912385
  • Godly Letters: The Literature of the American Puritans. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame IN 2006. ISBN 0268022909


  1. ^ a b The Province of Piety, p. 1
  2. ^ David Levin, "The Province of Historical Criticism: Historical Fact in Hawthorne and Colacurcio," Early American Literature Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall, 1985), pp. 164-172 https://www.jstor.org/stable/25056596
  3. ^ Merton M. Sealts, Jr., "Hawthorne as Perry Miller," American Quarterly Vol. 37, No. 4, (Autumn, 1985), pp. 614-618 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2712585
  4. ^ Reiner Smolinski, "Godly Letters: The Literature of the American Puritans by Michael J. Colacurcio," The New England Quarterly Vol. 80, No. 4 (Dec., 2007), pp. 710-713 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20474590
  5. ^ "The honor roll: UCLA's top teachers hailed," UCLA Today, May 2001 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-18. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  6. ^ "American Academy of Arts & Sciences : Professor Michael J. Colacurcio". Amacad.org. Retrieved 2013-08-17.