William Sharpe

Professor of English

William Sharpe joined the faculty of Barnard in 1983. In addition to his teaching duties for the English department, he is affiliated with the American Studies program at Barnard.  In 2018 he will be Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Professor Sharpe specializes in the literature, art, and culture of the modern city, particularly New York. He teaches courses in urban literature, modern poetry, Victorian literature, and literary criticism.
His work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has published numerous articles on literature, urban studies, and the visual arts.
Professor Sharpe's book on images of New York City at night, called New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Art, Literature, and Photography (Princeton University Press, 2008), is the winner of the Peter S. Rollins Award of the Northeast American Studies Association and the MSA Book Prize of the Modernist Studies Association.
His latest book, Grasping Shadows: The Dark Side  of Literature, Painting, Photography, and Film, has recently been published by Oxford University Press (2017).  The book analyzes dozens of artistic shadows in images and texts, proposing a method for understanding how shadows function in all artistic media, from Plato to Picasso to popular songs, films, installations, street art, and even advertising.  
Professor Sharpe's current research explores the cultural history of walking, particularly in cities, as well as the emergence of walking as an artistic practice since the 1960s.  He teaches an interdisciplinary course called "Walk This Way" that looks at pedestrian milestones from ancient Greek peripatic philosophers to contemporary performance art.

Selected Publications:

Grasping Shadows: The Dark Side  of Literature, Painting, Photography, and Film (Oxford University Press, 2017).

New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Art, Literature, and Photography (Princeton University Press, 2008).

The Victorian Age, Volume 2B of the Longman Anthology of British Literature, 4th edition, ed. with H. Henderson (Longmans, 2009)

Unreal Cities: Urban Figuration in Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, and Williams (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990)

Visions of the Modern City: Essays on Art, Literature, and History, ed. with L. Wallock (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988)

The Passing of Arthur: Essays on Loss and Renewal in Arthurian Tradition, ed. with C. Baswell (Garland Publishing, 1986)

Academic Focus: 
Art and Literature of the Modern City
Victorian Studies
American Studies

408A Barnard Hall

Office Hours: 

On leave spring 2018


Ph.D., Columbia University

M.A., Oxford University

B.A., Columbia University

In the News

Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe is one of three senior scholars honored with a Fulbright Visiting Professor Award—and the first from Barnard—which, according to the US-UK Fulbright Commission, is “viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar programme" and honors those who "have significant teaching and publication records.”