What I’m Working on Now

I’m revising my first monograph, provisionally titled Humanist Certainty. Broadly speaking, the book argues that the ancient notion of certainty, alien to the modern concept of the same name, is most fully theorized in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria as a term denoting customary agreement, not unimpeachable truth. This consensus-based understanding of certainty, built upon earlier sources including Aristotle and Cicero, exerts an influence on Quintilian’s humanist readers—including Lorenzo Valla, Thomas Hobbes, and Giambattista Vico—who use it to ground their writings on law, logic, and science. The second half of the book, which treats these later authors, focuses on the writings on Lorenzo Valla, Thomas Hobbes, and Giambattista Vico.

As part of a second research interest, I’ve started writing on the rhetorical tradition as it bears on so-called “persuasive technology.” In an article in Classical World (115.2) titled “Fourth-Century Fakes,” I argue that at least one late antique rhetorical manual reimagines impersonation as a tool of the “plain style,” where rhetoricians might not reveal that they have assumed artificial personalities. By presenting impersonation as a method of subtle deception rather than overt mockery, this fourth-century strategy anticipates the emerging phenomenon of “deepfake” videos, which convincingly portray people doing deeds they have never done and saying words they have never said.

Alongside some other shorter writing projects, I’ve started to draft a script inspired by my close friendship with a nonagenarian in New York during the height of the first wave of coronavirus infections in early 2020.

I frequently train with Mill City Running in Minneapolis, no matter the frigid temperatures, and I’m excited to return to races after a pandemic hiatus. I’ll be running the marathons in Boston and Chicago this year.

I’ve become a civic evangelist for Vote Forward, a volunteer organization devoted to increasing voter participation in the United States. You can register to vote or confirm your voter registration at Vote.gov.

(last updated 1/19/2021)