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A graduate of Yale University, Paul Semonin received his Ph.D in history from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in African Studies from the University of Ghana.

Now working primarily as a writer and independent scholar, he has taught history at the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Linfield College.

His articles on natural history and American nationalism first appeared in the Northwest Review and Leonardo. In these articles he challenged the paradigm of dominance in natural history culture and revealed the role of natural history myths in shaping early American identity.

Prior to becoming a historian, he worked professionally as a graphic artist. The central theme of his artworks was the impact of mass media and advertising upon American society.

His interest in the origins of American consumer society led to doctoral studies on 19th-century museum culture and the legendary showman P.T. Barnum. His dissertation "Citizens and Strangers: The American Museum Before Barnum," examined the early history of the New York museum that subsequently launched Barnum's career.

It was in the collection of this museum that he first encountered the tooth of the American monster and the animal's existence as an icon in early America.

Since publication of his book, he has continued to investigate the role of natural history myths in American society and culture. In 2001, he presented a paper entitled "The Myth of Wild Nature in Early America" at the international conference "Taking Nature Seriously: Citizens, Science and Environment" held at the University of Oregon.

At present, he is working on an educational video based upon his book American Monster.


© 2003 Paul Semonin



"Nature's Nation: Natural History as
Nationalism in the New Republic"
Northwest Review 30 (1992)

"Monsters in the Marketplace:
The Exhibition of Human Oddities in
Early Modern England" in Freakery
Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed.
New York University Press, 1996

"Empire and Extinction:
The Dinosaur as a Metaphor for
Dominance in Prehistoric Nature,"
Leonardo 30 (1997)

"Peale's Mastodon: The Skeleton
in Our Closet," Common-Place
Vol. 4, No. 2 January 2004

the author

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