Monthly Archives: October 2006

MH writes to us about her upcoming course on “Classicism and the Enlightenment”

[MH had trouble posting this, so I’m posting on her behalf–DM]

I’m interested in the thread from Wednesday, October 25, 2006, on “What is Enlightenment (in 10 minutes or less)?” I’ve tried simply not doing the “historical lecture,” like KW suggested in the first comment, until I figured out that most of the students in my classes didn’t even know what the “Restoration” part of the course title referred to, let alone the “Revolution of 1688,” etc. Then, I realized, that if I didn’t teach them those historical contexts, no one would.

Like you, I’ve learned that storytelling, schematizing, and drawing distinctions both generates insights for students and is one of their favorite aspects of the course. For some reason, it’s easier for me to define Romanticism or even the position of women in the eighteenth century than it is to get across the complex concept of Enlightenment. Yet now I find myself in the position of developing a course on “Classicism and the Enlightenment” in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the Humanities major at [Riverbend State], which has forced me to come to terms with my approach to “Enlightenment.” Like many of us, I developed meta-contexts for Enlightenment mainly in graduate school. But how do you incorporate theoretical/cultural studies issues (and non-eighteenth-century writers like Kant, Marx, the Frankfurt School, Habermas, Foucault, Bourdieu) into an undergraduate course that focuses in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The time period constraints necessitate teaching the “primary texts” of the Enlightenment. This, too, will have its challenges, as teaching philosophical texts always do. And there is a separate Humanities course on Romanticism, so “the sublime,” the French Revolution, and enlightenment seem out of bounds, or at best, a marginal focus.

So far, I know three literary texts that I plan to teach: Paradise Lost, Faustus, and Frankenstein. I’m tempted to include a reader, but I don’t know of any specific “Enlightenment” ones, other than the excellent “Race and the Enlightenment.”

Any ideas?


Job-letters and the job season this year?

Since I spent the weekend getting out my last few letters, I’m assuming that some of you are also in the process of writing job letters, or are getting ready for the first wave of mail-outs, to coincide with the Nov. 1 deadlines.

Do those writing, or those having letters written, have any advice or experiences they’d be willing to share with the rest of us? Any good guides for those negotiating the job market? Please consider sharing whatever you think would help those on the market this year.

If for some reason you’re concerned about preserving your anonymity, feel free to email your titbit to me at and I’ll be happy post on your behalf, with identities concealed.

Better yet, just use any pseudonym you wish in the “name” section in the Comments (how about “Doranthus”? or better yet, “Laboranda”?) along with a valid email address, and you’ll be fine.

In any case, good luck to everyone going on the market, or contemplating the market, this year.

Best wishes,


Proposal for a new course: 1771: A Year in the Life of the British Empire

Since pedagogy is one of our ongoing topics here, I thought people might be interested in the course I just proposed to teach in ’07-’08, an advanced senior-level undergrad seminar (enrollment 20) based on my current book project, a literary history of the year 1771, as this was reflected in anglophone writings produced in 5 or 6 major cities of the British empire.

I am pitching the course at the undergrad rather than the grad level because I want to whittle down the very large number of potential readings to a manageable size; I’m hoping that this will help me clarify my own thoughts about the book.

I’ve also decided that theory per se will be less important than historical contextualization, largely because the majority of my students will not be headed for grad school, and I want to encourage independent research in their contextualization projects, rather than leading them through a host of difficult theoretical texts. I’m also experimenting this time round with biographies, to see what contextual information undergrads can pick up from a few exemplary lives. There are additional pedagogical and institutional dimensions to this course, which revolve around the library and my department’s requirements, but I won’t go into that right now.

I’ve left off the Additional Readings section, because I’m still unsure what I want to put in there: Bailyn and Michael Warner, certainly, but some straight political and intellectual history, along with a limited amount of literary criticism. I’d be grateful if others had suggestions about additional secondary or even primary readings.

One final issue I’d like to discuss with others at some point is the future of the author- or genre-oriented course. I feel that much of my research nowadays is really organized around very different problems than “the novel in the 18c” or “Laurence Sterne’s contribution to the 18c novel,” worthy topics that I was trained to discuss as a graduate student, but which seem less urgent to me now. As a result of this split between my research and teaching, I wanted a course where, for example, the category of “region” was at least as important as “genre,” and helped to organize both kinds of scholarly activities. My assumption is that new, or at least different paradigms of knowledge demand different paradigms of teaching, though I find that this is rarely the case, even in elite institutions. We just substitute one form of survey for another, etc. etc.

So, for better or worse, this course represents my attempt to start thinking differently by teaching differently.

Best wishes,



1771: A Year in the Life of the British Empire

Course Description: This course is an outgrowth of ongoing research for my current book project, 1771: A Geography of Feeling, which analyzes the diverse genres of Anglophone writing produced during a single year in the British empire. For example, 1771 saw the publication of Smollett’s and Mackenzie’s Humphry Clinker and the Man of Feeling, Johnson’s Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting the Falkland Islands, Percy’s Hermit of Warkworth, the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Benezet’s Historical Account of Guinea, and Wheatley’s Elegiac Poem on the Death of Whitefield. My book attempts to answer two questions: first, how might we meaningfully relate these disparate authors, works, and genres to one another; and second, how might we use these relations to understand a distinct historical moment that we label, a little arbitrarily, “1771”?

To translate the book’s ongoing research agenda into a framework suitable for undergraduates, I have designed the course around a series of locations that will ground our semester’s discussions of particular authors and works published in and around the year 1771: these sites will include London, Edinburgh, Philadelphia, and Jamaica. These four locations will orient our readings in the year 1771 both geographically and historically. Moreover, students will supplement this year’s literary texts and contexts with readings in biographical and autobiographical texts involving such exemplary figures as John Wilkes, Benjamin Franklin, or Olaudah Equiano. Anchoring the class discussion around a particular city and a few closely-examined life stories should enable undergraduates to gain a more detailed and complex understanding of a cultural moment as it was experienced at different sites in the British empire. Nonetheless, I also expect students to go beyond their assigned readings by learning about this era from non-literary sources such as contemporary political pamphlets or newspapers, and by doing their own independent research into the historical background and secondary criticism.

Requirements: Students will be required to write brief 2 response-essays about the course-readings, to become responsible for the cultural and historical contexts of one of the cities covered, which they will develop and present in small research groups, and to develop a final research project (ordinarily, a 12-15 pp. research essay) in consultation with the instructor.

Course Readings and Approximate Schedule:

1. London (4 wks).
Arthur Cash, John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty.
Samuel Johnson, The False Alarm and Transactions respecting the Falkland Islands
James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense
Tobias Smollett, Humphry Clinker
Phillis Wheatley, sels. (from Basker, below)

2. Edinburgh (4 wks).
James Buchan, Crowded with Genius: Edinburgh’s Moment of the Mind
Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling
Encyclopedia Britannica and Millar, Origin of Ranks in Society, sels.
Robert Fergusson and James Macpherson, sels.

3. Jamaica (4 wks).
Trevor Burnard, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World
Richard Cumberland, The West Indian
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative
Vincent Carretta, Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man
James Basker, ed., Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, sels.

4. Philadelphia (2 wks).
Anthony Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea, with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, sels.

5. Coda: 1776
Thomas Paine, Common Sense
Bernard Bailyn, “1776: A Year of Challenge—A World Transformed.”

Open Thread: Pope’s reading?

In honor of the Philadelphia symposium, I thought I’d open up a new thread on Pope, since it seems that we have at least a few people who are interested in eighteenth-century poetry and Pope. Since Pope is one of those authors that I read but rarely teach, I thought it would be better to canvass people than to go on in my usual way.

So here’s my question: I’ve always been struck by the historical range of the poetry that Pope imitated, and by the equally broad range of contemporary writing he apparently championed (say, Samuel Johnson and Robinson Crusoe). Any thoughts about Pope as a reader of others’ poetry? As a critic? As, god forbid, an editor of Shakespeare? And any thoughts about how these varied habits of reading informed what has always seemed to me to be one of the most unified and distinctive styles in 18c poetry?



What is Enlightenment (in 10 minutes or less)?

There are times when we all have to take a deep breath and explain to our students what “Enlightenment” means. Or “Romanticism.” Or, “sensibility.” Or, we might have to answer a question like, “What was the position of women in the eighteenth century?” These are the moments when we dig deep into our teaching experience, our accumulated reading, our long-term memory, and even the paltry insights we scatter across every course, and try to impart something bigger, wider, and deeper than, “here is a novel. Let’s read it!”

The historical background lecture, I’ve noticed, is the terror of every graduate student imagining herself as The Expert in front of a restive class. I know I hated doing them, because I felt that I was travestying something I’d spent years trying to figure out on my own. Let them go read a bunch of sermons! Or try to understand Hegel! Or read the remotest, dryest stretches of Dryden’s prose! Let’s see how well they do, huh?

And my suspicion is that the lectures I gave back then were, to put it mildly, pretty crappy, though of course no one complained, probably because they had no idea what I was talking about. For the inexperienced teacher, opacity is bliss.

When I got to an actual job which demanded that I answer such questions pretty regularly, I took a more pragmatic attitude, and learned that a large part of teaching is the strategic reduction of complexity, simplifying things by storytelling, by schematizing, and by drawing distinctions, all designed to produce certain insights among students. And this is one of the invaluable things that teaching experience gives the teacher with the luxury (and the burden) of returning to the same materials again and again: the ability to zero in on the strategic simplifications that have generated insights among their students over time.

Now, one thing I noticed in Allen’s interesting thread on Enlightenment universalism was the fact that many of the respondents were working off of the large-scale paradigms they generated for their own classes. I know that I was. And I’m wondering if we could talk a little about how we develop such meta-contexts, to use an awkward term, for teaching and research, and discuss how these meta-contexts relate to our own and others’ scholarship, as these continue to develop over time.

After all, I think we’ve all had the experience of sittting in the class of a “great lecturer” and realizing that we are listening to insights developed decades earlier, and polished through mere repetition.

So, the intellectual and historical background lecture. How did you develop yours, and how do you continue to develop it in successive courses?


Parker is on board

Good news! I heard back from Blanford Parker about possible discussion of The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson. He writes:

I am moved that anyone might be interested in discussing my book. I would be glad to respond to the discussion in the ways you suggested once I get up to speed on blog and blogging. I always like a chance to clarify my (sometimes unintentionally cryptic) meaning and I have been altering my views slightly on satire and other matters.

I’ve asked Prof. Parker to give us some possible dates when he’ll be available, and I’d like input from you on this as well. When might be a good time to do this? The Triumph is, mercifully, about 250 pages, and quite a good read. I’ll be very interested to see how his views have changed between the initial publication in 1998 and the paperback release this summer.

Who wants to play this round?

Plunkett & Macleane (1999): They rob from the rich . . . and just keep it.

Rebecca: [after her father has asked why she is dancing with Macleane] He doesn’t make my flesh crawl.
Macleane: *Thank* you.

Aha, here it is, in all its glory, with all the IMDB info for you Long Eighteenth folk to feast upon:

The summaries make it sound a lot cheesier than I remembered it. Had no memory at all of Liv Tyler, or her bad accent, or Alan Cummings as a bisexual aristocrat called “Lord Rochester,” unaccountably stranded in mid-18th century London. (Maybe he was a ghost! Risen up from the dead!)

What I do remember is the excellence of the soundtrack, which was by Craig Armstrong, and the fact that the aesthetic of Trainspotting was somehow imported into it wholesale, probably by bringing in Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle as the leads, after they were first noticed in Trainspotting.

Directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley I believe, and whose previous experience was mostly music videos. But I thought the script and acting were matched pretty well with the visuals, which really were spectacular.

OK, any other takers for their favorite 18th century costume drama, crappy or otherwise?