JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Emily Nacol

January 6, 2023 by Sonja Johnston

Emily Nacol (Ph.D. 2007, University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Political Science. As a political theorist who specializes in the history of early modern political thought and political economy, Emily studies how early modern people coped with the problems of risk and uncertainty in political, social, and economic life. She joins the JHI in 2022-23 as one of our Faculty Research Fellows.

JHI: What are your main research interests?

EM: My research agenda focuses on the how humans cope with the problems of risk and uncertainty.  I’m especially interested in how our efforts to do so influence our political institutions, relationships, attitudes, and activities.  To approach these questions, I turn to texts in the history of political thought, to explore how others have documented the human encounter with risk.  In particular, I work with British political and economic writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, the period in which “risk” is just starting to emerge conceptually in an Anglophone context.  I am curious about people who were starting to think of their world in terms of risk wrote and theorized about political life and political economy.

JHI: What project(s) are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it (them)?

EM: At the JHI I am working on a book project called Reimagining Labour.  This book focuses on changing attitudes towards labour and work in 18th-century Britain.  I am interested in how a changing economic landscape—one increasingly characterized by finance, long-distance trade, and imperial projects—stirred up anxieties about the loss of traditional forms of work or labour.  My main interest is in how already marginalized labourers held in some suspicion bore the brunt of these anxieties.  So, in some regards, I’m interested in how these workers—prostitutes, the labouring and non-labouring poor, seasonal workers, and low-level stock market workers—were scrutinized and understood as posing special risks during this period of change and upheaval.  I chose this project because I am interested in it as part of my attention to the 18th century, but I am also interested in how we today categorize and think about different types of workers normatively and politically.

JHI: What are you hoping to experience this year as a JHI Fellow? What are you most looking forward to?

EM: What I am most hoping to experience—and have been experiencing—is an ongoing conversation with scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds who share my interest in work and labour.  For me, it has been really exciting to hear other people share their work-in-progress and to be able to talk as a group about what they share.  I also love all the activities the JHI sponsors and plans for us and for the university community.

JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by

EM: People are tired of hearing me talk about it, but I watch a lot of movies, and my favourite from the last few months is After Yang (2021).  Not only is it beautiful to behold and beautifully acted, I found its central story about how a family copes with the loss of their child’s AI companion to be a smart and sensitive meditation on caring labour.

JHI: What is a fun fact about you?

EM: I’m a real dog lady.  I have a 15-year-old rescue dog named Libby who has moved with me all over North America and loves sniffing her way across all the streets and parks of Toronto’s west side.  She also was a popular (and extremely noisy) guest in my online classes during the pandemic lockdown.