Professorpicture of Orville
Director of Graduate Studies
(215) 204-1796
022-29 Anderson Hall
Pollett Walk


American Literature, Modernism, Photography, Visual Studies, Spatial Studies, Material Culture


Miles Orvell has a broad interest in American literature and culture, with special interests in realism and modernism. He is also interested in visual culture, urbanism, and technology. Orvell’s essays and reviews on literature, photography, documentary film,
 technology and the arts have appeared in Afterimage, American Art, American Literary History, History 
of Photography, Film Quarterly, Prospects, Sewanee Review, Technology Review, Tikkun,
 Winterthur Portfolio and many other journals. He has presented papers and lectured widely at conferences and universities in
 the U.S. and Europe and was a Fulbright Professor of American Studies in Denmark. Orvell has also directed several N.E.H. Summer Seminars for School Teachers—on
 Documentary Expression in the Thirties and on Ethnic Autobiography. He received the Bode Pearson award from the American Studies Association for lifetime achievement and edited the online Encyclopedia of American Studies from 2003 to 2011. Orvell is an editor of the University of 
Pennsylvania Press series, Architecture, Technology, Culture. He is an affiliated member of the Art History faculty.

Orvell’s research in recent years has focused on the cultural significance of space, and his 2012 study of Main Street explored the complex and contradictory cultural meanings of the small town at the 
same time that it problematized the icon of Main Street. His current research is on the cultural meaning of ruins, and he is looking at the representation of archeological ruins, industrial ruins, urban ruins, atomic ruins, and other sites of destruction, using the lens of photographic representation primarily. His research uses the grounded theory method and is problem-centered.

Selected Publications

  • Invisible Parade: The Fiction of Flannery O’Connor (1972), republished with a new preface as Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction (1991)
  • The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (1989; 25th anniversary edition with new preface, 2014). John Hope Franklin Publication Prize of the American Studies Association.
  • After the Machine: Visual Arts and the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries (1995)
  • American Photography, Oxford History of Art Series (2003; second revised edition 2016).
  • John Vachon’s America: Photographs and Letters from the Great Depression to World War II (2003)
  • Public Space and the Ideology of Place in American Culture (2009), Co-editor with Jeffrey Meikle.
  • The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community (2012). Finalist, Zócalo Public Square Book Prize for Best Book Published on Community and Social Cohesion.
  • Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue (2013), Co-editor with Klaus Benesch.

Courses Taught


  • Survey of American Literature (I) and (II)
  • Modern American Fiction
  • Documentary Photography
  • American Photography
  • Place as Symbol


  • American Literature of 20th/21st centuries
  • Theory and Methodology of American Literary Study
  • Photography and Literature