Robert Appelbaum was born in New York City (1952) into a working- class Jewish family, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. He received a B.A. in the humanities from the University of Chicago in 1975, putting himself through school through scholarships, the kindness of relatives, and a variety of odd jobs, including two summers as an oiler at Republic Steel on the far south side of Chicago. Afterwards he travelled though France, Italy and Greece, earning a degree in French Language and Civilisation at the Sorbonne and getting experience as a dishwasher in Loutsa, a beachtown near Athens. Then he began a career at the Berlitz Schools of Languages in the American Midwest.
In 1978 Appelbaum threw caution to the wind, quit his job at Berlitz, loaded up his Renault Le Car, and headed west to San Francisco. He worked as an art dealer in San Francisco for a number of years, threw caution to the wind again, started driving a luxury limousine for a living and eventually entered graduate school, first at San Francisco State University, from which he received an M.A., and then at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2004 he moved to England, to take up a post as lecturer in Renaissance Studies at Lancaster University. At Lancaster he was the recipient of a British Academy Research Award, a Leverhulme Fellowship, and an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship. In 2011, out of pragmatism as well as dismay at the privatisation of English universities and the introduction among them of obscene tuition fees, he took up a Chair in English Literature at Uppsala University, Sweden.
Appelbaum teaches and reads in a wide area of studies related to English Literature, with a special strength in Shakespeare and the Seventeenth Century. His scholarly and creative work these days, however, mostly focuses on food studies, terrorism studies, and violence studies, and expands well beyond the borders of Britain and English literature.
In food and culture studies, in addition to Aguecheek’s Beef, Appelbaum has published a number of reviews and review essays in Times Higher Education, Clio,The Baffler and elsewhere, as well as an online essay ‘Food Fuss in London‘, and his book, Dishing It Out: In Search of the Restaurant Experience (Reaktion 2011). He has produced an essay called ‘Judith Dines Alone: From the Bible to Du Bartas’, which looks at translation theory as well as the symbolic meaning of keeping kosher, or not, in the Judith legend, which appears in Modern Philology. Dishing It Out, in the meantime, looks at the culture of supermarkets in Europe and elsewhere. But it goes beyond the sociological to the personal, for it is also a memoir and a work of creative non-fiction. Working the Aisles: A Life in Consumption (Zero 2014) s at once a memoir and a critique of consumerism — it is by turns funny, harrowing, and enlightening.
In terrorism studies, Appelbaum has published on Milton and the Gunpowder Plot and on ‘Terrorism and the Novel, 1970-2001’ and ‘Fantasias of Terrorism‘, an introductory article to a special issue on terrorism in the Journal for Cultural Research which he edited. Recently, he has published Terrorism Before the Letter: England, Scotland, France, and the Mythography of Political Violence, 1559- 1642 (Oxford University Press), and an essay, ‘Shakespeare and Terrorism’, which appears in Criticism. He is a contributor as well to Terrorism and Literature (Cambridge Univerity Press, 2017), edited by Peter Herman.
In 2014 Appelbaum was appointed a Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, where he developed a project on ‘The Aesthetics of Violence’. He has recently lectured at the Institute, Stellenbosch University, Pretoria University, Cape Town University, the Cornaro Institute in Larnaca, Cyprus, Concordia University, Canada, Copenhagen University, Melbourne University, The University of Sydney, The French Shakespeare Society and the University of Zurich.
More recently, Appelbaum has published The Aesthetics of Violence: Art, Fiction, Drama, and Film, with Rowman and Littlefield. In 2016 he was aawarded a grant from the Swedish scientific research society, Vetenskaprådet, to undertake a four-year project on ‘The Renaissance Discovery of Violence, from Boccaccio to Shakespeare.’ Appelbaum is in addition a co-organizer for the international research group, Interpreting Violence. And he has recently been named editor for The Cultural History of Myth in the Renaissance, to be published by Bloomsbury as part of a series on the cultural history of myth. He was named Senior Professor in Arts and Communication at Malmö University, Sweden in May, 2019.