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Matthew H. Birkhold

Matthew H. Birkhold

Matthew H. Birkhold

Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies


328 Hagerty Hall
1775 College Rd S
Columbus OH 43210

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Areas of Expertise

  • Law, culture, and the humanities
  • Environmental humanities
  • German literature, 1750-1945

Associate Professor of German
Affiliated Faculty, Moritz College of Law

Faculty Director, Environmental Humanities minor

BA (Columbia, 2008), JD (Columbia, 2016), PhD (Princeton, 2016)

Birkhold is a scholar of law, culture, and the humanities, with an emphasis on German literature from 1750-1945, environmental humanities, intellectual property, and Indigenous studies. He is also an enthusiastic teacher and advisor. In 2019, he won the university’s award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring.

His first book, Characters before Copyright (Oxford University Press, 2019), analyzes the social, economic, and aesthetic changes that led to the proliferation of “fan fiction” after 1750. It uncovers the unwritten customary norms that governed the creation and distribution of these derivative texts before the existence of intellectual property laws, thus challenging the scholarly assertion of an eighteenth-century tradition of “free culture.” It was awarded the Waterloo Book Prize and Honorable Mention for the MLA’s Jean and Aldo Scaglione Prize.

His second book, Chasing Icebergs (Pegasus/Simon & Schuster, 2023) investigates the world of iceberg harvesting to learn if the frozen freshwater mountains could be a solution to the global water crisis. Interweaving cultural history, personal interviews, and law, it identifies the social, philosophical, legal, and environmental hurdles we must clear to equitably make use of this untapped resource. It has been positively reviewed in Nature, Newsweek, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews among others.

Along with a study of the “judicial literary canon,” Birkhold is currently at work on two book-length projects. The first, a cultural history of the metronome, traces shifting representations of and attitudes toward the mechanical device. It is under contract with Bloomsbury. The second, tentatively titled Measuring Ice, examines the ways in which local and Indigenous knowledge contributed to German exploration of the Arctic and how it was transmitted via literary production.

Birkhold has published articles on a range of subjects, including: ice flowers, Kleist and Prussian pregnancy laws, the CIA's collaboration with Hollywood, Goethe’s Magic Flute sequel, the discovery of the ice age, Freud and child pornography law, Native American cultural property.

His essays and op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Paris Review, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post, the Public Domain Review, Electric Literature, and Indian Country Today

Matthew is also Associated Faculty of the Sustainability Institute and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

Recent and upcoming courses include: “Indigenous Cultures in German Literature, “Fan Fiction,” “Queer Literature,” “Literature and the Law of War,” “Winter in Germany,” “Forests, Mountains, and Rivers in German Culture,” “Native Americans and the Law.”