Monthly Archives: January 2007

Teaching Carnival #19 up at Scribblingwoman

Another nifty bundle of stuff at Miriam Jones’s Scribblingwoman, at this address:

Enjoy, and thanks, Miriam.




CFP: The Long Eighteenth visits NEASECS, October 2007

Carrie S. and I put together this proposal for a roundtable on academic blogging at NEASECS next fall:

Blogging the Long Eighteenth

Blogging, like the mighty Ipod, democratized a technology by making it cheap and accessible enough for non-experts to use.   First-time users were able to gain access to new virtual communities with very little prior knowledge or experience.  Unlike the Ipod, however, blogging—and the forms of online communication and community it has fostered—follows a logic distinct from that of the marketplace, because it is done for free and is just as freely consumed.  The absence of the property relation or the profit motive in most of these cyber-communities, where information or texts cannot be bought or sold, but only circulated, makes such online communities seem “utopian.”  This sense of the utopian openness, freedom, and possibility of the cyber-community has been strengthened by the otherwise triumphalist discourse of the global marketplace, where narratives of compulsory modernization, a “flat world” and the collapse of national barriers have made us wonder what part of the world, or aspect of contemporary life, is not to be dominated by the imperatives of the marketplace.

In the decidedly non-utopian state of the contemporary academy, however, the cheapness and the accessibility of the blogs have made them attractive to scholars eager to interact with other scholars and communities about their work, their lives, and their research.  The eighteenth-century scholarly community has long been part of these developments, first through the amazing generosity of Kevin Berland and the listserv C18-L and now through the appearance of scholarly blogs like our own.  And we should never forget that all these developments have taken place during the defunding and dismantling of the American public higher education system, the corporatization of the research university, and the resulting crisis in academic publishing at both university presses and scholarly journals.  Under such unpromising circumstances, it is not surprising that the blogs look utopian, especially when compared to our universities, our departments, and our work conditions.  But many paradoxes still surround the scholarly blog, because of this medium’s constitutive tensions with scholarly hierarchies of expertise and specialization.  In our own case, the question is how to generate an open and inclusive discussion in our chosen medium without surrendering our specialized knowledge of the period.  In other words, is it possible to take advantage of the collective intelligence of the blog without losing the individual perspective or experience of the long-time practicing scholar?


Comments, anyone?  This panel has been approved, and will appear in the upcoming CFP for NEASECS.  And since we still have slots open for the roundtable, contact me offline at if you wish to send a proposal.  Here’s the address for the NEASECS conference:

And thanks to Peter Cosgrove and Anna Battigelli for coordinating this event.



Crisis at the British Library?

I’ve read a really disturbing news story that the British Library is facing major financial cuts – there is a possibility that readers will be charged to use the St Pancreas reading rooms and the newspaper library will close altogether. This could be disastrous for large numbers of researchers in British history and literary studies (not least eighteenth century folks). Does anyone know any more about this? How bad is the situation?


The story has been covered more extensively since my first post and it could well turn out be very bad for many researchers. It should be said that the reports are talking worst-case scenarios, and we can all hope that it won’t be quite that bad. But the BL seems unlikely to come out of this unscathed.

See: The Grauniad; Telegraph (and more); This is London.

NB: Library staff will go on strike tomorrow (Wednesday 31 January) in protest and the reading rooms will be closed.

Some 18th-century reading to pass the time

The latest edition of the Science blogging carnival, the Tangled Bank, has an 18th-century history of science theme.

Another interesting source project using WordPress: Defoe’s Review.

Jonathan Edelstein has uncovered the use of a Koran for swearing oaths in The Old Bailey.

And nearly forgot this: When a killer cloud hit Britain.

Update: I mentioned the Linnaeus 300th anniversary in another post; well, now there’s a brand new celebratory website (from Sweden but in English). Apart from some history, it has answers to questions such as: ‘how do flowers know when it’s time to bloom’ and ‘what’s so unique about humans’. There’s a large dollop of Swedish patriotism in there, but it’s absolutely delightful.

More of what I’ve been doing

I’m so sorry to have been absent. For the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over some very non-eighteenth-century related ideas that started cropping up during MLA. In the long run, I think they will wind their way back home to our period, but in the meanwhile, I’ve posted the first of the fruits over at the Valve. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Narratives of secularization?

A few weeks ago, Amardeep Singh of the Valve put up an interesting post about “literary secularism” on that blog, to coincide with the appearance of his new book with the same name.  Here’s his announcement, on a stand-alone blog devoted to the book’s topic:

Apparently, Amardeep’s argument takes up recent social theories of secularization and secularity (running from Said through Asad and Viswanathan), modernity, and religion, and how those issues have affected literary works produced in the fractured or overlapping religious spaces of modernity: not just the Anglo-Judaic England of Daniel Deronda, but the novels of Joyce, Tagore, Pamuk, and Roth, as well.

I was intrigued by this description, because I came to this discussion from my own point of departure, which is really the transition from the early modern to the Enlightenment in England and Great Britain.  And, if you recall, this kind of secularizing narrative plays a prominent role in both McKeon and Parker’s works, which we read last term, and which take the story back to the English Civil War or even the Reformation.  And I sent Amardeep a post, and told him that I thought these were fairly standard historical arguments within our field.

Nonetheless, since I’m still mulling these issues over, I thought it would be interesting to see if others have been thinking about these issues in their own research, and what kinds of historical or literary examples they might choose to talk about, or what kinds of theoretical models they might use to illuminate them.



Online sources

I don’t quite understand what Carrie means when she talks about using Wikipedia.  I also nowadays rarely teach literature courses — though I do use literature in my Advanced Comp in the Natural Sciences and Tech courses. I regularly assign good science books, science classics, and sometimes relevant modern fiction.  So we spend about 1/3 of the term doing a research paper on how medical science really functions or is used in the subculture of medical treatments, and (the last 3 terms) we read Danielle Ofri’s _Singular Intimacies_ and John LeCarre’s _Constant Gardener_.

I do use online sources though. Perhaps I will be just re-inventing the wheel when I say this or not saying something sufficiently generally applicable.  But here it is:  at GMU we have vast databases of journals, newspapers, all sorts of sources.  I require that my students use these and I have exercises to get them to.  In general, the response is very positive. I’ve discovered many junior level students at GMU are unaware of the rich information at their disposal through their password. They are going to less rich or inferior or only partly relevant sites open to the public because they don’t know about these.

I’ll get as a thank you in the evaluation, one of the things they appreciated most was my showing them these databases.