Greetings, all. I’m blogging today from Shady Side, MD, visiting my folks this weekend. And no, the grading’s not done. That’s what the airplane ride is for, isn’t it?
Our recent exchanges about historical change and method have really brought home to me two assumptions that I’d like to explore a bit further:
1) that the contingent events that occur in our daily experience will turn up in our interpretation and teaching of the long eighteenth. The best recent example is the new salience of secrecy and scandal in the wake of the page scandals in D.C. Carrie Hintz talked about this dynamic in regards to all the Lewinskiana dating back to the Clinton era, but I think we can argue that this is a more general working assumption that turns up in a lot of our teaching, and now in scholarly blogs like this one. In other words, the historicity of the historian affects her perceptions of the past in substantial though contingent ways. Am I correct when I say that we take this for granted?
2) that we take the geographical difference between “center” and “periphery” as seriously in the present as we do in the past. The Edinburgh reader of the Man of Feeling has a different sense of it as a cultural and historical event than the London reader, because the book’s publication inserts itself into distinct histories. As one of my colleagues phrases it, London and Edinburgh exist in distinct geopolitical, and therefore geohistorical, locations, to say nothing of further-flung publics of metropolitan literary culture. Again, is it fair to say that we share this assumption?
Some time ago, I did a little teaching presentation at ASECS called “When did the Enlightenment Reach Texas? (please give dates),” and, of course, I was only partly joking about the question.
One of my first lessons in geohistorical location was the experience of teaching texts like Crusoe to students with stoutly maintained religious identities (mostly evangelical Protestant, but some Catholic). In my first semester in Houston, I was shocked to receive questions on topics like calvinism and predestination, which had been treated as fairly recondite matters by my East coast grad program. This means that even as we treat the Long Eighteenth as a body of material that we are attempting to “reproduce” mimetically from one generation to the next, that nonetheless this process of reproduction will play out quite differently in different places.
If the assumptions I’ve just outlined are correct, that means that the Long Eighteenth as it is known in Shady Side, MD (only a short drive from the pleasant little eighteenth-century houses and streets of Annapolis), will be different than the Long Eighteenth as it is talked and written about in Philadelphia, New York, or Santa Barbara, not to mention London, Manchester, and Dublin. It’s a dizzying prospect, and I’m not sure where it ends.
So how does your location (in every sense of the word) affect your sense of what you study and teach?