Laura just got word that our panel was accepted, so we’ll get to endure the fierce winds of Chicago this coming December at MLA. Thanks to everyone who submitted for this. If we get a good response at MLA, maybe we’ll pursue this further. Here’s the final panel description, along with the abstracts:
CULTURAL STUDIES/EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES IN THE CLASSROOM
How has cultural studies changed teaching of the long (and wide) eighteenth century? What are the challenges, limits, and institutional stakes of cultural studies for our research and teaching? What happens when research agendas do not align with curricular programs?
Over the last twenty years, the eclectic mix of practices featured in cultural studies has become broadly institutionalized throughout eighteenth-century studies, appearing in our publications, graduate seminars, and conference presentations, but also in textbooks, anthologies, and course designs. Changes of this nature reflect a key assumption about teaching in higher education, which demands that the paradigms governing our research projects should also determine, if indirectly, the paradigms taught to our students.
And yet cultural studies, to the extent that it has absorbed Marxism, feminism, Foucauldean discourse analysis, and the multicultural critiques and counter-critiques of the literary canon, still sits uneasily within an undergraduate curriculum based on concepts, categories, and distinctions that cultural studies has systematically put into question: the distinction between popular culture and literature; conventional periodizations; national boundaries and the nation-state as the fundamental lines of demarcation for literary history; and all the notions of coverage that those distinctions or boundaries entail. So what is the most effective way to absorb the insights of cultural studies into our curricula and our pedagogy? A new survey course? A change in pedagogical style? Or some sort of wholesale modification of the entire curriculum?
To confront this growing tension between our research agendas and our institutional and curricular structures, we decided to ask a few pointed questions: what kinds of problems does this gap produce and/or reveal, either in our methodologies or in our teaching? What is the best strategy for addressing these contradictions in the classroom, in the curriculum, and in our institutions?
We would argue that all these questions are consistent with the imperatives in cultural studies toward self-reflexivity, analysis of the socio-historical situatedness of thought, and close examination of the material circumstances surrounding the circulation and reception of ideas. Moreover, while these questions are focused on the way we teach eighteenth-century writing in English and foreign language departments, they also have relevance across a range of traditional fields.
This roundtable will feature 5 brief presentations (app. 10 mins.) with lots of time left for discussion. All the papers address the conflicts between a professors research agenda, heavily influenced by cultural studies and the global eighteenth century, and attempts to turn cultural critique into productive classroom learning.
Carl Fisher (California State University at Long Beach) will focus on two questions: first, while the researcher may in his books and articles challenge the traditional Age of Stability view of the period, how much do students actually learn from this when they have no familiarity with long established views? Second, how does a cultural critic incorporate the range of texts necessary to make cultural arguments, many of which may hold less obvious kinds of appeal that the traditional canon? How does a teacher encourage creative rather than mechanical (i.e., this text promotes imperialism, patriarchy, etc) responses?
Dwight Codr (Tulane University) will share his experience incorporating the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online: his solution to Fisher’s technical question of how to incorporate cultural material into our courses. At the same time, he notes the irony of offering a critique of British imperialism through a database produced by cheap Indian labor on computers in Korea, Japan, and China. He explores ECCOs benefits, while also attending to its costs–in every sense of the word.
Laura Engel (Duquesne University) will turn to issues of gender and sexuality provoked by her cultural approach to libertine literature in the classroom. In the context of a Catholic-affiliated university, this literature offers eerie parallels to the experiences of her students; at the same time, she notes the frustration in exploring models of identity and agency that do not correspond to the students own cultural context.
Thomas DiPiero (University of Rochester) will look at how eighteenth-century French philosophers wrestled with the problem of materialism when they tried to conceptualize where thinking originated. The two-substance model popular in the early years of the eighteenth century was largely superseded by a notion of embodied thinking in later years. The challenge here is to acquaint students with reason and intellect not as transparent vehicles of thought, but as cultural products, historically and culturally situated, that not only gauge the validity of other thoughts and observations, but can themselves be seen as opaque objects subject to examination and evaluation.
David Mazella (University of Houston) will explore the manner in which the specific research project helps to mediate between the fixity of the literary canon and the deliberate open-endedness of the cultural studies approach. The real contribution of cultural studies pedagogy, he will argue, lies not in any specific juxtaposition of sources, contexts, or methodologies, but in the principle that researchers must consciously choose and assemble these elements to generate their insights. One consequence is that the quality, range, and variety of students’ research projects become a crucial component of such cultural studies courses, because they represent the best evidence that such an individualized and reflective process has taken place. He will use his own course, a literary history of the year 1771, to show how courses organized around non-literary topics (i.e., courses organized not around authors or genres, but around, say, cities, events, or population flows) can still sustain extensive literary research, and remain relevant to a literary curriculum.