Monthly Archives: February 2007

My first conference (gulp)…

No, not the first conference paper! I have to organise a conference for the first time, as part of my job. In fact, I have to organise two, one for the Central Criminal Court proceedings project and the other, later on, for Plebeian Lives. This is at once an exciting and utterly terrifying prospect.

At the moment I’m not sure exactly what model the conferences will follow. (If anything like the Old Bailey Proceedings conference (Muse), there won’t be parallel sessions, which will make life slightly easier.) There’s a good chance we’ll have delegates from several different continents and each conference will last for at least two days. I should have more information on this by the end of the week.

So, does anyone have advice (what to do and what not to do!) on any aspects of organising an academic conference? Or pointers to webpages containing good advice? It seems quite hard to find useful resources online.

Any tips will be much appreciated!

Susan Staves on Women’s Writing and the Novel (SCSECS ’07)

Another highlight of the weekend was the set of plenary addresses arranged to honor the 25th anniversary of the journal, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, featuring Susan Staves, Maram Epstein, and Carla Mulford.  Though all three talks were good, I thought that Staves’s talk would provide some interesting matter for further discussion here.

Staves did a very nice job in her talk distinguishing between the history of women’s writing and the history of the female novelist in her plea for further research on women’s writing in non-fictional genres.  This talk was clearly a spinoff of the long-term work she has done in feminist literary history, not just in her own studies, but in her powerful overview of the field, A Literary History of Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1789 (Cambridge, 2007).

What I found most interesting about Staves’s talk was her claim that it was women’s non-fiction, not fiction, that contained the least ideologically determined representations of women.  The female characters in the novels will resemble the characters in the conduct books, but the products of feminine experience found in diaries, memoirs, essays, histories, etc., will necessarily contain more complicated representations, and more realistic examples of how women worked within and against contemporary codes of conduct and decorum.  [this is all from memory, but I think I’m doing justice to SS’s points here]

This seems plausible to me, insofar as I’ve always wondered about how resolve the tensions between the prescriptive, conduct book images of femininity and the related though not identical images offered in both the novel and social history.  Bringing the non-fictional genres of women’s writing to bear upon this question seems like a good way to approach this problem.

But to do this, we need to start taking not-quite-literary genres like the periodical essay or the familiar letter much more seriously than we have in the past, and stop isolating the novel from other, concurrent genres.  Any sign that we might follow Susan Staves’s excellent advice?



Back from SCSECS 2007, @ Tulsa, OK

Hello everyone,

I’m back in Houston today, after a very nice weekend in Tulsa, presenting at SCSECS ’07.  Laura Stevens did a fine job running the conference, whose program can be found here:

I heard a number of interesting talks, but I wanted to post today about one particularly good set of talks.

Eugenia Zuroski, at U Arkansas, put up a very nice panel on nationalism and national identity, with fine papers from Natalie Bayer, Elizabeth Thompson, Jason Holinger, and Amanda Hines (those interested in learning more about these talks may consult the program link above, which  gives affiliations and titles). 

The papers described a number of different aspects of nationalism and trade during our period: Russian freemasonry,  settler/native american intermarriage, nabobs and the gentlemanly ideal in colonial India, and British tea-table rituals.  One of the most interesting topics to emerge from was the convergence of modernization and nationalism as large-scale historical processes significantly driven yet complicated by commerce and trade.  Yet some 18c witnesses to these processes fought against these developments, as well: tea was denounced as a luxury and a drug, and the nabobs of India were disapproved of for their excesses or ostentation.  We talked a little about the “pollution” and destabilization that trade seemed to introduce into those societies, and the heavy fire that such symptoms of trade and change drew from contemporary moralists.

But the usual opposition of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism to a nascent 19c nationalism seems too simplistic to describe the events described in this panel.  It seems that “enlightenment” and “nationalism” seem to be phases of a single process of modernization taking place in Europe and elsewhere, which involves the incorporation of places like Russia, India, China, or the American colonies into the world-market run by English and European traders and merchants.  It’s important to note, moreover, that these exchanges affected not just patterns of consumption for these goods, but also “manners” in every sense of the word.

In any case, it was a fine set of talks.  More later on other stuff I saw at Tulsa.



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.

The politics of gesture: Historical perspectives

[Michael Braddick, whose essay on civility I just discussed a few days ago, forwarded the following conference announcement, and hopes to post about it here when the conference website goes live in the spring.  We look forward to hearing more about this event.–Best wishes, DM]

(Conference at Humanities Research Institute, Sheffield 15-16 Sept 2007)

Gestures can be powerful means of communicating affirmation and solidarity and, for the same reason, can be powerful means of expressing dissent.  Class, gender and generational relationships are all expressed and reproduced in gestural codes; so, too, are ethnic identities.  Such codes are therefore central to the process of structuration described by Giddens: through individual actions we express, and reproduce, broader social relationships (structures).  By the same token, transgressive gestures, or infractions of gestural codes—such as failing to take off a hat, or an over-familiar use of the hand shake, for example–-can modify or even transform the patterns of social interaction, leading to a more coercive expression of power or, in the absence of such, a dilution of the cultural weight and effectiveness of authority.  Gesture, in other words, can be the battleground over which divergent visions of social and political order are fought.  Of course, these clashes can be  unconscious—for example, in unintended miscommunication at moments of inter-cultural contact—but such unfortunate miscommunications are no less important for their accidental nature, nor less revealing to historians of larger assumptions about social relationships and their regulation.

On the whole, historians have paid more attention to the politics of ritual than of gesture.  Ritual, like gesture, has these functions, and is regularly reproduced, but the distinction perhaps centres on the more consciously articulated and choreographed performances implied by the term ritual, and the greater regularity of gesture.  That more attention has been paid to ritual is in part a reflection of the sources, and by the same token, this has tended to restrict the range of arenas in which these ritual politics are studied, for example by privileging royal and religious authority.  Histories of gesture, on the other hand, have often been preoccupied with chronological change rather than with politics and contestation: for example, shifts from one bodily regime to another, the rise of politeness, or the self.  It is suggested here that through an approach to gesture (as opposed to ritual) which focuses more closely on who is communicating what (and with what success), historians can gain access to a wider range of politics—within the home, between generations and status groups, or between ethnic groups—and of politics in more routine situations.  

In most historical contexts it is difficult to get at actual examples of bodily deportment, except where they were a cause of conflict.  However, it does seem possible to take an historical approach to such moments of conflict, when breaches of gestural codes prompted to violent confrontation, or were perceived to be deliberate subversions of dominant political values—examples of the refusal of deference, or the affectation of unacceptable ‘styles’ provoked attempts to forcibly reassert a particular vision of social and political order.   A second area of interest is in the disruption of political and religious ceremonies—it is easy to think of examples from medieval and early modern
England, but presumably in any number of other places.  Here again the study of gesture offers a way into subaltern, or popular, political attitudes, shedding an oblique light on the everyday politics of class, race and subversive politics.  A final area of interest is the issue of representation and the history of the body.  The politics of the smile, or the kiss, or the handshake are all possibilities; so too the unruly body as a signifier of disorderly life.  These cultural history approaches seem to have the most to offer in opening up the politics of gender and age hierarchies.  Overall, it is clear that the topic prompts diverse responses, but also that there is coherence in a recurrent engagement with, for example, Elias, Goffman, Bourdieu and Foucault.  


Leslie Brubaker, Birmingham: ‘Gesture in Byzantium’ 

Philippe Depreux, Limoges: [tbc: Investiture?]

Peter Coss, Cardiff: ‘Gesture and judgement’ 

Miri Rubin, London: ‘Gestures of pain, implications of guilt: Mary and the Jews’

John Walter, Essex: [tbc: 17th century England]

Jim Sweet, Wisconsin: ‘Gesture, gender, and healing in the African-Portuguese world, 1550-1750’

Karin Sennefelt: Uppsala, ‘The politics of hanging around and tagging along: everyday practices of politics in eighteenth-century Stockholm’ 

Colin Jones, London: ‘Meeting and greeting in late eighteenth-century Paris’   Dallett Hemphill, Ursinus: ‘Manners in the Age of Revolution: A Transatlantic comparison’

David Arnold, Warwick: ‘Salutation and subversion: the gestural politics of nineteenth-century

James Hevia, Chicago: ‘“The ultimate gesture of deference and debasement”: Kowtowing in

Mary Vincent, Sheffield: ‘Expiation as performative rhetoric in national-Catholicism’

Bill Chafe, Duke: ‘Politics in post-world war II America: the politics of gesture writ large’

Mary Fulbrook, London: ‘Enacting the social self: embodiments of status in the two German dictatorships, 1933-89’

Stephan Feuchtwang, London: ‘Commemoration, inclusion and exclusion in China and

Richard Handler, Virginia: ‘Erving Goffman and the gestural dynamics of modern selfhood’

How can we talk about race in English literature?

[Cross-posted to the Valve]

Last night I attended a particularly fruitful talk by Kim Hall (Director of Africana Studies at Barnard) on sugar production in the seventeenth-century West Indies and the use of “sweetness” in English writings about domestic economy and husbandry. Her talk, “Foreign Encounters with Domestic Economies,” covered a great deal of ground, moving from historical descriptions of the African slave labor that produced sugar from cane (making it, for the first time, readily available to English people outside the very wealthiest class) to the kinds of advertisement writing that appeared in the seventeenth century describing the West Indies to the English, and therefore to prospective investors. Not surprisingly, these latter texts largely skip over the facts of slave labor, instead describing the land as itself somehow yielding up not only ready-to-use sugar, but also candies, cakes, and marmalades. Later, she went on to discuss the use of “sweetness” in C17 English poetry, the valuation of “sugar” metaphors over “honey” ones, and especially how the use of “sweetness” relates to English conceptions of English husbandry, as employed at home and in the colonies.

The range and depth promise good things for her forthcoming book, The Sweet Taste of Empire, which promises to cover all this material in greater depth and detail.

Obviously, narratives of labor and empire have had a wonderful effect on our analysis of historical texts. One can’t imagine reading something like Edmund Hickeringill’s 1661 Jamaica Viewed (one of Hall’s main source texts) without considering the ways that slave labor have been erased from its narrative of production in the West Indies. But what I found quite revolutionary about Hall’s work was the way she goes on to show how anxieties about that erasure appear even in the more “literary” texts of the period. She quotes the following lines from Robert Herrick’s “A Country Life”:

Who keep’st no proud mouth for delicious cates:
Hunger makes coarse meats delicates.
Canst, and unurg’d, forsake that larded fare,
Which art, not nature, makes so rare,
To taste boil’d nettles, colworts, beets, and eat
These and sour herbs as dainty meat,
While soft opinion makes thy genius say,
Content makes all ambrosia.

Here we see sweetness (associated with the class-marker-yearnings of the country gentry) rejected in favor of the humble, local products of English husbandry. Nettles and beets are associated with what one’s own hands can gather, rather than what can be bought from overseas labor. The content he urges is not only content with what is simple or cheap, but with what is readily within one’s grasp. Hall demonstrates how the surpassing sweetness of sugary confections is coded with distance, class, and the labor of foreign hands.

Miriam Burstein’s Valve post on “The historicist’s useful fiction” got me thinking about how much one can read into, for example, Herrick’s treatment of sweetness. After all, the narratives coming back to England from the West Indies, as Hall says, tend to erase the labor that goes into planting cane, harvesting, pressing, rendering, and storing. How much would Herrick have known about the vast industry of slave labor that fueled the sugar production that makes the “delicates” fit for the tables of the upper class?

Not much, probably, but, in the end, does that much change the validity of Hall’s claim that anxieties about sweetness and husbandry begin to infuse the poetry of domestic economy in the seventeenth century?

In conversation with Prof. Hall after the talk, I began to think about the ways that I teach literature of this era as aware of globalization and foreign labor. I’m about to start doing Gulliver’s Travels with my British Lit Survey students, and, for me, it’s clearly not just a satire on British society, but also on imperial English perspectives, foreign labor, racism, and genocide. For some reason, these were never really issues that any of the professors I’ve studied Swift with have ever brought up much. We talked about British religion, philosophy, government, and class, all things that Swift obviously knew and cared about, but we never really discussed whether Swift was concerned about slavery, subjugation, and murder. We know he read Dampier and patterned GT on it closely (and to quite humorous effect, if you’ve read Dampier), but the explicitly racist depiction of the Yahoos is rarely discussed. There is a queasiness about whether Swift aligns himself with the Houyhnhnms who wish to annihilate these beings, or whether he is satirizing Gulliver’s creepy eagerness to distance himself from them. To me, the text suggests the latter, but certainly this requires a bit of faith in the amount to which Swift associates the English treatment of the Irish with the European treatment of other peoples around the world. I’ve taught it before with this assumption, while offering the possibility that I’m wrong.

It’s a difficult, and perhaps uncomfortable question that one may not wish to raise about an author whose opinion of human nature is so low that it’s hard not to see some satisfaction in his character’s willingness to turn away from humanity altogether.

I worry sometimes, though, that in our hesitance to suggest too much about an author’s knowledge or opinions, we may be unwilling to bring up issues of colonial power, slavery, and racism while teaching, even if we willingly accept these issues as valid subjects of critical discussion. Is it wrong to suggest the possibility of an author’s awareness of global struggle to undergraduates?