John Hamilton

German and Comparative Literature, Harvard University

Prior to his appointment as the William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, John Hamilton has held teaching positions in Classics at the University of California-Santa Cruz and in German and Comparative Literature at New York University, with a visiting professorship in Classics at Bristol University. He has previously worked as a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2005/06) and at Berlin’s Zentrum für Literaturforschung (2009), and is an active participant in the working group, Nachleben der Antike, initially based in Heidelberg. At Harvard, he co-organized the transatlantic PhD Network on Das Wissen der Literatur, and serves as co-editor of the series Metaforms: Studies in the Reception of Classical Antiquity (Brill).

John Hamilton’s research spans a broad range of topics and themes from antiquity to the present day, with a focus on Western European literary and cultural history. Specifically, he has published work on the reception of classical history (Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity and the Classical Tradition, Harvard University Press 2004), on the figure of the mad musician (Music, Madness and the Unworking of Language, Columbia University Press 2008), and on the semantic-political history of the term Security. Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care (Princeton University Press 2013). More recently, he has developed a theoretical model that derives from the Christian doctrine of Incarnation (Philology of the Flesh, The University of Chicago Press 2018), an extended essay on the theme of complacency (Über die Selbstgefälligkeit, Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2021, and Complacency: The Displacement of Classics in Higher Education, The University of Chicago Press 2022), and a study on the French reception of Kafka from existentialism to deconstruction (France/Kafka: An Author in Theory, Bloomsbury Academic 2023).

John Hamilton’s current project is tentatively titled Culture of Convenience. In addition to examining the historical shifts in the word’s meaning, from a sense of agreement to a general idea of ease, efficiency, and opportuneness, the study reflects on how convenience has become a dominant criterion for determining what is valuable in present-day society. How did “easier” come to mean “better”? Consequently, the work occasions a sustained reflection on today’s enthrallment to technological conveniences and aims to assess the balance, or rather imbalance, between what is useful and what is enjoyable, between what helps us survive and what makes life worth living.

His tandem partner is Cornelia Zumbusch, professor for Modern German Literature at Universität Hamburg.

Hamilton’s HIAS Fellowship is funded by the ZEIT STIFTUNG BUCERIUS.


John Hamilton 




Cornelia Zumbusch, professor for Modern German Literature, Universität Hamburg


MUSIC OF THE SPHERES Apollo on top of the planetary spheres and musical ratios in Franchino Gaffurio 1492 book Theorica musicae