Category Archives: History

Performance History vs. Textual History in Roach’s IT

As I’ve been thinking about our exchanges about Roach’s book over the last week or so, I’ve come to feel that we need to reflect some more about the nature of Roach’s object of study–performance–and how studying that field of activities affects the questions of evidence we’ve been discussing, especially in regard to the genres of historical writing.

One starting-point would be this passage from David Simpson’s well-known discussion of the varieties of history and the New Historicism, in “Is Literary History the History of Everything“:

New historicists have been noticed for their eschewal of grand theory and their alternative reliance upon anecdote and happenstance; for their immersion in the empirical plenitude of antiquarian history, from which items are plucked like rabbits from a hat, which turn out to illuminate a more traditionally “major” text or topic; and for their general effacement of hermeneutic problems about doing history in favor of the sheer vividness of the data of history. Nietzsche hoped for just such a history, one whose value would not lie in “general propositions” but in its “taking a familiar, perhaps commonplace theme, an everyday melody, and composing inspired variations on it, enhancing it, elevating it to a comprehensible symbol, and thus disclosing in the original theme a whole world of profundity, power and beauty” (92).

I think many of the terms plucked out of Nietzsche here could be applied to Roach’s work: the “empirical plenitude” of his discussions of wigs and the early history of Hollywood, and their surprising relevance to the topics usually found in monumental histories (e.g., monarchy and popular government); how the vividness of the data of “antiquarian history” may very well make this mode of history-writing more illuminating than the materials of monumental history; how the point of antiquarian history’s “everyday melody” is the extent to which it inspires rococo “variations”; most importantly, however, antiquarian history’s “commonplace theme”may be “elevated” into a “comprehensible symbol” in which we discover a “whole world of profundity, power and beauty.”  This, to me, is a good description of what Roach has achieved in his study of the “It-effect”: this book has disclosed a whole world of performance, one whose profundity, power and beauty seem closely related to its roots in “the deep eighteenth,” the never-quite completed transition to Modernity.

Simpson seems to assume that in the current discursive environment, with its suspicion of grand narratives, that certain kinds of Monumental history have become difficult or perhaps even irrelevant to readers, critics, and scholars:

It is within this climate of expectation, wherein grand narrative is morally discredited and (perhaps more important) massively difficult to perform, that the anecdote and the contingent connection do their work.6 Levi-Strauss wrote of biography and anecdote as “low-powered history,” requiring subsumption within a “form of history of a higher power” for significant intelligibility. But he also noted that while low-powered history is the least explanatory, it is “the richest in point of information, for it considers individuals in their particularity and details for each of them the shades of character, the twists and turns of their motives, the phases of their deliberations” (261).

I appreciate Simpson’s observation that certain forms of anecdotal or contingent history really do rely upon earlier or more general narrative frameworks to become intelligible.  But when I think, for example, about Simpson’s opposition between anecdotal, and therefore “low-powered,” histories, and the more synthetic “high-powered” academic history, I immediately recall Boswell’s powerful mythologizing of Johnson, and wonder how that could be distinguished from the kinds of work Roach does with Garrick and Siddons and the rest of performance history.  Isn’t Boswell as much a historian of gesture and dress as he is a writer of dialogue?  Conversely, we can cite Thackeray’s equally powerful biographical mythologizations of figures like Swift and Sterne, and wonder whether Simpson’s distinction between the high-powered and the low-powered approach really holds in literary history, which seems absolutely dependent upon the anecdotal and the contingent in its most powerful instances, and certainly in its earliest phases.  So Simpson’s distinction, I think, ultimately rests on a hierarchy of textual over non-textual history that seems untenable, at least for any model of performance studies, and perhaps for literary and cultural studies generally.

And, indeed, Roach’s book demonstrates precisely the need for such biographical and anecdotal materials in performance history, because of these materials’ value as a hitherto-unnoticed archive for the cultural contexts of performance.  So even if Simpson seems (ultimately, though I think grudgingly) to endorse some version of the “antiquarian” history of everything, I think that a book like Roach’s argues much more persuasively for this kind of approach, largely because it is able to document and thereby raise the It-effect into a comprehensible symbol of one of the hallmarks of Modernity, synthetic experience.


Cultural Studies and the BABL

The 18th-century cultural studies panel from MLA provided an excellent discussion about the opportunities and limitations of cultural studies as pedagogy, especially in the undergraduate classroom, and has got me thinking about ways to solve, or at least massage, some of the problems discussed on the panel, using some of the resources that are cropping up for instructors as guides for my students. The main problem that emerged during the cultural studies panel and the ECCO panel that morning was the lack of a guide to navigate the wealth of contextualizing sources available to our students, many of whom lack the research experience and intuition necessary to decide what is relevant to the study of a historical text and what may not yield a fruitful contextualization.

One of the resources I’m excited to have accessed is the Broadview Anthology of British Literature’s Instructor’s Guide, which I contributed to last summer. I got a passcode for these materials at Broadview’s display at the convention, and am very pleased to see the materials assembled there, which I can see using quite actively in the classroom. The guides generally provide a series of critical approaches to the authors, a few thoughtful readings of their major works, some questions for discussion, some material on critical responses to the works, and often a nice section of texts that provide some cultural context for the work. Although not all of the authors are covered yet, the ones that are provide a sort of roadmap to criticism and historical sources for many of the authors and texts we teach at the undergraduate level.

Obviously, the guides provided by BABL are limited in that the historical sources they suggest are those chosen by whatever scholar wrote the draft of the guide, but they do offer, at least, positive suggestions (i.e., something like “Try looking here”) as opposed to the negative suggestions we often find ourselves making to undergraduate researchers (“No, that’s probably not going to be a good source; try again”). My own guide, on Swift, reflects my personal interests in popular print culture and political economies, and is therefore quite limited, beyond some suggestions about other topics to research. However, I hope it offers something like what I offer students in class who simply don’t know where to start—a suggestion of a few leads that have the potential to produce an exciting research project, leading to further research more specific to that student’s interests.

One of the most exciting things, pedagogically, for those of us who encourage historical research in literature classes, is that our students may find wonderful sources that we’ve never encountered before, and make excellent connections we haven’t thought of. Those who have a knack for sussing out sources and making interesting conclusions can respond to an open-ended research assignment with passionate inquiry. However, at the undergraduate level, these open-ended research assignments can result, as Dwight Codr suggested during the panel, in a kind of despair.

In my own historical-research wiki assignment, in which I offered 70 narrow topics for research to my students, the results were either inspiringly brilliant or depressingly nonexistent. Quite a few students chose to take a zero for the assignment rather than complete the work, and a great number did only cursory and often inappropriate research (citing other student-made websites rather than primary sources, etc.), despite a great deal of class-time devoted to discussion of how to find and use primary sources. I eventually had to make the assignment extra-credit, so as not to fail a third of each of my classes. I assumed at the time that the project itself was doomed, but now I wonder if the problem was that one must not just teach students to do primary source research; one must model it for them by guiding them to examples of appropriate sources first, not just topics and suggestions for where to look.

What I hope to use the BABL guide for next semester is to mine it for historical sources that I can assign directly to students who do not readily come up with sources of their own, and to assign them the contextualization work suggested by the guides and by my own previous reading experiences. Once they have followed a path that previous scholars have found fruitful, perhaps they can then be more attuned to the kinds of sources they might look for in future assignments. After all, most of us learned to do contextualizing research by reading professional historicist criticism, not by slogging blind through special collections or databases. We learn to do this work largely by example, not by trial and error.

The problem in the past, for me, has been that my reading of primary sources outside of literature has largely been in special collections that my students do not have access to, and little of it has been the kind of stuff that interests my students. While I’d love to get them all interested in the Gentleman’s Magazine or in Coke’s Institutes of the Lawes of England, I can’t necessarily expect them all to travel from their homes on Long Island to midtown Manhattan to spend four or five hours trying to decipher typefaces totally unfamiliar to them, and expect them to find something critically interesting and relevant to the class, and expect them to then draw knowledgeable and well-written conclusions about those sources that their classmates will then read and use. Out of the past 200 or so students I’ve urged to go use a special collection for their research, exactly one student actually did it, and she ended up citing almost nothing she read there.

Although the BABL guides don’t tend to reproduce entire sources, they do often provide a few pages of contextualizing sources, from which a student could at least get a hint of whether she wants to spend time looking further at that source or not. On a larger scale, one could imagine a resource like the BABL guides, except perhaps in a wiki form, with suggestions by scholars of possible contextualizing sources for major authors or genres and short excerpts, as well as lists of places to find these resources on the web, on EEBO or ECCO, or in special collections. This would take a great deal of time and energy on instructors’ and scholars’ parts, but, if Wikipedia has taught us anything, it’s that human beings are glad to expend energy in a collective way if there is the promise of an output greater than their individual input.

Do we think it’s possible for literary and cultural-studies scholars, a turf-warfare bunch if ever there was one, to cooperate in some kind of project like this? Would it be best to run it somewhat like Wikipedia, with mostly pseudonymous authorship and editing? Would it be a gigantic disaster?

-Carrie Shanafelt

Michael Warner on religion and politics

Last night, Michael Warner spoke at the Graduate Center as the plenary talk for the interdisciplinary “Religion and Sexuality” conference being held today. His talk was a riveting call to restructure the terms of the ongoing debate about the role of religion in secular politics.

His key point was the way in which the language of eighteenth-century evangelical religion, in which one is “a Christian” because of one’s declared faith (rather than, say, adherence to religious law or cultural associations), has been extrapolated in American politics to create a division between all religious peoples (“faith-based initiatives,” etc.) and secularism, which is defined as a lack of faith. He noted the ways in which even non-Christian religions are defined by political bodies as “faiths,” even though faith itself is a specifically Christian-evangelical requirement for religious affiliation. Warner noted that in Stanley Fish’s op-ed columns, Fish has repeatedly opined that he (as a secularist) feels jealousy of radical Muslims and Christians alike because they have “something” to believe in and fight for, while secular individuals have “nothing” to believe in.

Warner argued for a revision of this rhetorical separation between faith and absence-of-faith as a specifically evangelical mindset that neither does justice to non-faith-based religions or to the very long history of secular ethics. One way of doing this, he argued, is not to relentlessly separate the terms of church and state, but to recognize that if churches wish to be considered political entities, they must be analyzed in political terms, in part because the “beliefs” that religions bring into political realms are constantly changing, unrooted in either biblical or ecclesiastical history, and constantly plead self-referentiality. The war against homosexuality, for example, has never been a primary issue of Christianity until recently, when suddenly it has become the very shibboleth by which certain Christian groups assert their faith.

In the end, it seems, extrapolating “faith” to mean “whatever political interests the religion currently serves,” makes it a similarly empty and ahistorical category as secularism. It must not be called to answer for its lack of relevance to 2000 years of Christian ethics, and it also cannot be called to task under the provisions of the Constitution. If “freedom of religion” has come to mean that anyone in the U.S. can do anything and limit anyone else’s rights, as long as they call that impulse “faith,” then secular political discourse becomes totally powerless. After all, the problem with religious control of politics is not that it makes for bad “faith,” but that it makes for unacceptable political positions. Meanwhile, the very terms of “faith” require that all religious-political impulses frame themselves as faith-based, even when non-evangelical religions base community participation on other terms.

It was a brilliant argument and a deeply historical view of religion and politics in the U.S. over the past 230 years. Unfortunately, it seemed to spawn exactly the sort of conversation whose terms Warner was attempting to reset. I was extremely frustrated by the intransigence of the respondents toward a dialogue about the history of the discourse. There is a deep commitment in the secular academy to an us-vs.-them mentality with respect to religion, and a fear of engaging with anything called “faith” as a discourse, or as rhetoric. The conversation seemed to spin out into statements of the deeply-held “beliefs” of secularists, and then into religious audience members’ fear of an atheist-totalitarian state. A few questioners responded to Warner’s talk as it was presented, but his method of analysis seemed, sadly, completely unfamiliar to most of the respondents, who insisted on reasserting a post-1950’s view of what is true and must always have been true about U.S. politics.

What is a wiki for?

Many of you have asked for an update about my wiki experiment of last year, and I held off on responding because it didn’t go very well, and I don’t really blame the wiki itself as a medium.

To review, what I did with my British Literature survey wiki was to ask students to research a topic of cultural, political, sexual, or economic history in Britain between 1600 and 1800. They were supposed to find a few good sources and sum up what they found in a brief and informative wiki article with citations, so that their peers could easily glean a great deal of interesting information about, for example, Restoration fashion, the Gunpowder Plot, or the social position of Jews in London in the mid-18th. If we had time, we could have revised, sharpened, and interlinked the articles to create a very interesting and useful resource.

I chose that assignment because I had done something similar when I was taking Nigerian Lit as an undergrad. The course was so packed with novels and plays that the professor did not really have time to lecture on the entirety of postcolonial Nigerian history and culture, so each member of the class developed a one-page annotated summary of a particular topic, which we briefly presented and provided for our classmates. It was an excellent wake-up call to me as an English-centric student that What We Do is so deeply tied into matters of history, political science, religion, and philosophy that we have to be able to do research in other fields just to be able to understand what we’re reading. We can’t just wait for a professor to give us all the context we need.

With a similar purpose, I asked my students to go to the library and look up things about their topics. I gave them names of books I knew might be good. I helped them get access to primary sources from the special collection I worked in. As far as I knew, everything was going swimmingly.

But when the time came for me to check in on the wiki, I was dismally disappointed to see that only a handful of them followed the directions. The ones who did produced interesting, lovely little summaries, often with visual aids and excellent sources. But most of them cited only websites (which I’d explicitly banned so they’d go to the library), simply copied paragraphs out of encyclopedias (again, banned, and, well, plagiarism), or did not do the assignment at all.

Grades plummeted. What happened here? I gave explicit directions, which several people were able to follow without incident. But when 2/3 of the class simply cannot do an assignment at a passing level, I have to assume that there is something wrong with the assignment. Because the resource they created was so poor as a whole, none of them read their classmates’ work, and no one bothered to create links between articles. As a wiki, it was not functional.

The following semester, I made this assignment extra credit, and, again, several of the articles I received were excellent, but many received no extra credit at all. In the end, the extra credit only ended up benefiting those who were sure to receive A’s anyway, which was proof enough to me that it was a failure as an assignment.

I asked, both semesters, what had gone wrong. The main answers I got were that they had no idea how to summarize (not surprising, given that an analytical summary is a pretty sophisticated rhetorical skill most students aren’t asked to do until grad school) and that they had no idea how to skim sources. I got many emails asking the repeated question, “Are you saying I have to read three 500-page books???” I’d say, no, you have to look in the index or table of contents, find the relevant information, and figure out what would be important for your classmates to know, regarding your chosen topic. Many of my students did not know how to find information in non-fictional texts. They are English majors, and they’re used to reading every word.

In addition, I fear that asking them to post to a website was just one more hassle on top of scholarly/rhetorical hassles that created an inappropriate amount of stress. All of these skills are important, and I wish I could say that I could teach all these skills in my class, but in the context of a Renaissance-to-Modernism survey, I just don’t have time to teach rhetoric, research, and reading at that level.

When I taught the class this summer, I dumped the wiki assignment, which was clearly going nowhere and was not helping the students it was designed to help. I refocused my efforts on getting my students to practice analytical summary (which, by hook or by crook, I’m going to teach them) and research. This time, I asked them to write a three-page summary of a significant critical article on a poem or poems from the syllabus, and another one on a prose work from the syllabus.

This assignment got them to isolate for themselves (a) what literary criticism is, and (b) what a literary-critical argument does, as well as (c) how that relates to their own reading of a work. I know this sounds very basic, but I’m not sure it’s something they think about when they’re writing run-of-the-mill research papers. Many of my students have somehow gotten through most of their coursework without really seeing that literary criticism is not about “facts” and “opinions” but about arguments that open texts up for more interesting and engaged reading.

The responses I got from this assignment were, on the whole, really magnificent. My students said they struggled with the summary mode, but the assignment was do-able, and they were happy to see how this would improve their research papers at the end of the semester. A few students turned in summaries of study guides on the literature, which was depressing, but depressing things in isolation are not as depressing as an entire class of depressing things. Most of them found really fascinating articles, and many of my more excellent students developed a strong attachment or aversion to the article they found, which often became the basis of a fabulous paper at the end of the semester.

This is where the wiki comes in. I was so thrilled by the work they were doing this summer that I’d like for them to turn their summary essays in to the wiki. This would create a genuinely useful resource for the class, helping them to see what kinds of literary-critical work is out there, and what a broad range of journals they could dip into. Of course, there is the mild concern that they will merely read a fellow student’s summary of an article and not look into the article itself, but there are easy ways of making sure they know that is not sufficient.

The point of a wiki, after all, is to get my students to have an attitude of collaboration, rather than competition, which is extremely difficult to instill in a population like Queens College, which doesn’t have dormitories or a “campus” mentality. I often fear that many students show up to school every day thinking about how they can beat out another student for a grade, as if it worked that way, mostly because they then get in their cars and drive home, out of the city. I feel like much of my work as a teacher, throughout CUNY, has been trying to convince my students that the sea of camaraderie raises all ships, and that I’m not interested in just focusing on a few brilliant students in the front row and leaving the rest behind. With the wiki, I’ve been hoping to allow them to see their classmates not just as personalities, but as other minds in the classroom who have something to offer them.

We shall see, we shall see. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m not ready to abandon the idea of my class producing content for one another, so I will keep trying.

Linda Colley’s latest, reviewed on LRB

I’m not sure how many people are tuning in, but I decided to put up this (very positive) review of Linda Colley’s Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh.  The full review, thankfully, is online, and the book looks to me like it will find a wide audience:

The book’s subject was an extraordinarily well-traveled, resourceful woman, born in Port Royal, and buried in Calcutta, with an amazing number of adventures in between.  The reviewer Hilary Mantel summarizes the book’s narrative very well, so I won’t rehearse it here.

What I will point out, though, are the interesting affinities between Elizabeth’s life and the fictions of writers like Defoe or Aubin.  Affinities, but not identities.  Unsurprisingly, at one point, bankrupt, trapped in London, and without other resources, she simply begins to write up her own life as a sentimental novel, though apparently not a very good one.  Here’s Mantel:

It was an era when many women were travelling and many women were writing, but it was women of little fortune, and needy widows, Colley tells us, who were willing to go into print. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish letters had been published only posthumously, in 1763. Six years later Elizabeth published anonymously, but this did not give her privacy much protection, as her friends raised a subscription to finance the publication. So they would know the details of her ordeal – or what she chose to tell. The idea was that she would appear as much like Richardson’s Pamela as possible. Innocence – not her native toughness, grit and resourcefulness – is her main weapon. The Elizabeth Marsh of the narrative introduces pious glosses, calls on Providence, faints and weeps. All the same, Colley says, The Female Captive is ‘strange, awkwardly written, and even shocking’. Copies were snapped up and vanished into private libraries. She was writing for a market.

Colley’s book raises a lot of interesting questions about recovering a life that already seems too fictional to be true.  It also participates in a trend I’ve noticed, where front-line historians like Colley and John Brewer and Simon Schama seem much more interested in storytelling than they do in the give-and-take of ordinary academic debate.  But it looks to be popular with armchair adventurers both in- and outside the academy.


Kapuscinski on history and Herodotus

The Saturday, June 9 Guardian had a very nice extract from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s last book, which contains some interesting reflections on Herodotus and history-writing.  Here’s a passage that I found particularly apt, especially from a man (a cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word) who managed to worked very effectively on the boundaries between journalism and history-writing.  It’ s about the difficulties of extracting a history from the usual welter of events and conflicting testimonies:

Herodotus is entangled in a rather insoluble dilemma: he devotes his life to preserving historic truth, to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time; at the same time, however, his main source of research is not first-hand experience, but history as it was recounted by others, as it appeared to them, therefore as it was selectively remembered and later more or less intentionally presented. In short, not primary history, but history as his interlocutors would have had it. There is no way around this divarication of purpose and means. We can try to minimise or mitigate it, but we will never approach the objective ideal. The subjective factor, its deforming presence, will remain impossible to strain out. Herodotus expresses an awareness of this predicament constantly qualifying what he reports: “as they tell me”, “as they maintain”, “they present this in various ways”, etc. In fact, though, however evolved our methods, we are never in the presence of unmediated history, but of history recounted, presented, history as it appeared to someone, as he or she believes it to have been. This has been the nature of the enterprise always, and the folly may be to believe one can resist it.

RK’s personal identification with the ancient historian highlights the riskiness of the transition from oral recounting to written narratives, and the un-empirical foundations of history and history-writing.  This from a man who traveled all over the world to witness some of the greatest scenes of political catastrophe in the past 30 or 40 years.

RK justified his interest in history and the classical past as represented by Herodotus as part of an exhaustion with the present, and with the repetitions enforced by politics and journalism’s exclusive focus on the most recent past.  After a lifetime of traveling to one crisis after another, he wished to cross temporal boundaries, as well: 

And just as I had once desired to cross a physical border, so now I was fascinated by crossing a temporal one.

I was afraid that I might fall into the trap of provincialism. We normally associate the concept of provincialism with geographic space. A provincial is one whose worldview is shaped by a certain marginal area to which he ascribes an undue importance, inaptly universalising the particular. But TS Eliot cautions against another kind of provincialism – not of space, but of time. “In our age,” he writes in a 1944 essay about Virgil, “when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits.”

So there are spatial and temporal provincials. Every globe, every map of the world, shows the former how lost and blind they are in their provincialism; similarly, every history – including every page of Herodotus – demonstrates to the latter that the present existed always, that history is merely an uninterrupted progression of presents, that what for us are ancient events were for those who lived them immediate and present reality.

 This notion of a temporal ‘provincial’ is a challenging one for us, because it goes to the heart of our notions of periodization, specialization, professionalization.  Read the sample of RK’s meditation on Herodotus to see if you think he goes beyond the dilettante’s ‘enthusiasm’ for his latest discovery, and provides a different kind of insight into the materials of Herodotus’s history.


Enlightenment and modernity

For whatever reason, I’m simultaneously reading two books with very different readings of the Enlightenment project–Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Nestor Garcia Canclini’s Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity.  I feel that I should not like them both, because they’re so different, but I do anyway, because they’re both teaching me important things about the Enlightenment as an ideology of modernization.  In other words, I’m using these writers to understand Enlightenment as a form of temporalization.

Since people on this blog may not be as familiar with Garcia Canclini’s work as AM’s, I’ll talk about NGC tonight.  Garcia Canclini’s anthropological essays are rooted in his work on Latin American politics and popular culture, and focus upon the difficulties faced by regions that have experienced modernism but not modernization.   

In other words, modernity seems unevenly distributed in certain parts of the world, and this “multitemporal heterogeneity” (47) in places like Mexico or Argentina leaves the relation of the traditional to the modern an open, and still unresolved, political question.  This is especially true for those who would like to activate modernity’s “emancipatory project,” its “expansive project,” “its “renovating project,” or its “democratizing project” in their own regions (12).  These various projects fall in line with familiar macronarratives about modernity in the West, because they trace rise of just about everything–individualism, capitalism, urbanization, improvement, distinction, and the diffusion of knowledge–that we’d associate with the positive sides of modernity.  And yet despite our own qualms regarding the unforeseen consequences of modernity, we still associate phenomena like inequality or fundamentalism in those parts of the world with insufficient modernization, when we might see them as the logical outcome of such actions, policies, etc.

This is why the opening paragraph to his essay, “The Future of the Past,” caught my eye:

The modern world is not made only by those who have modernizing projects.  When scientists, technologists, and entrepeneurs search for clients they also have to take into account what resists modernity.  Not only in the interest of expanding the market, but also in order to legitimize their hegemony, the modernizers need to persuade their addressees that–at the same time that they are renewing society–they are prolonging shared traditions.  Given that they claim to include all sectors of society, modern projects appropriate historical goods and popular traditions (107). 

And my thought was, well, this nicely describes Macpherson’s Ossian and the Scottish Enlightenment, but not Percy or Gray and English nationalism, exactly.  Or maybe my analogies are piling up too high, and threatening to come down on my head?


historicizing literature, literaricizing history?

Since I’m teaching some 18c novels alongside Roy Porter’s social history this term in my undergrad course, I’m always thinking about ways to teach students the distinct uses of literary and historical evidence in thinking about our period, since both constitute indispensable sources of information about the past.  In my institution, students typically come to my courses without any prior introduction to either the novels or the history that I teach, so I’m always puzzling over the sequencing of contexts and information.  [people might recognize some of these issues from our discussion of MH's course earlier this year]

Here’s a quote from F.A. Ankersmit’s Introduction to History and Tropology, where he discusses the possibility of reading Zola’s novels, as opposed to the historian Zeldin, to gain a picture of social life in France under Napoleon III:

The cycle [of novels] would require a specific kind of reading: we would have to read the cycle in such a way that the relevant knowledge could be deduced from the cycle–whereas it is the pretension of history books to present their readers with that kind of knowledge in a straightforward way.  The difference is analogous to that between the clue for a word in a crossword puzzle (the novel) and the intended word itself (history).  And naturally this difference must have its consequences for the narrative organization of either novel or historical text (5-6).

And, I would add, consequences for the narrative organization of a course in the novel.


Carnivalesque #24

Welcome to the 24th Carnivalesque! There are lots of great links here, so let’s get started.

Strange Maps discusses California’s history as an island, possibly home to the Garden of Eden.

George Goodall at Facetation writes on the influence of engineering on early modern maps. Why didn’t maps develop more quickly into the representational structures we recognize today? I’ve recently heard a number of interesting answers from the aesthetic angle to this question, but Goodall frames it as a question of technology and knowledge.

The Conventicle‘s H.C. Ross posts a series of links to maps of interest to students of Puritanism.

Early Modern America
Walking the Berkshires describes a fascinating episode of the American Revolution.

Mary Mark Ockerbloom at Merrigold discusses the life and poetry of Phillis Wheatley.

Language, Literature and Philosophy
Conrad H. Roth at Varieties of Unreligious Experience on the language of alchemy and the history of writing about the London Bridge.

Paul Robinson at Novice Philosopher wonders how Hume and Bayes never crossed paths.

Brad Pasanek at The Mind is a Metaphor explores the implications of mechanical imagery for the mind through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

John Holbo wants you to come talk about Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew at the Valve.

Simplicius at Blogging the Renaissance wonders how to avoid getting anti-Semitic responses to The Merchant of Venice.

Brett Hirsch at Sound and Fury explores the relationship of Jewishness to poison-making, and how poison makes a dog burst.

Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society posts this beautiful representation of Linnaeus’s “Flower Clock.”

Philobiblon visits the plague wall in Provence.

PK at Bibliodyssey gives us this extraordinary series of illustrations of a Tuileries Tournament.

Also at BtR, play along with this New-Yorker-style caption contest, from Truewit.

Mark A. Rayner at the Skwib brings us more of the The Lost PowerPoint Slides, Gutenberg Edition.

This Gaudy Gilded Stage offers the first two installments of Hottie of the Month, Sir Charles Sedley and William Congreve.

(And, of course, everything here and at the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room offers early modern content nearly as oft as you could wish it.)

Carnivalesque this weekend!

This is just a reminder that the Long Eighteenth will be hosting Carnivalesque this weekend. This is a history-related blog carnival, with a special emphasis on posts related to the early modern period (1500-1800ish). I have received a few submissions so far, but we’d love to have more! Please submit your posts using the submission form here, or by emailing me directly at carrieshanafelt at gmail.