Monthly Archives: August 2008

CFP: Digital Defoe

[Note: I’m posting this on behalf of Sharon Alker–DM]

Call for Papers

Invitation for Submissions to the Inaugural Edition of Digital Defoe

Digital Defoe is the new online peer-reviewed publication of the Defoe Society. It is now seeking submissions for its first issue, which will take as its subject “Defoe and the Media.”

Submissions can range from articles on or multimedia interactions with Defoe’s own innovative use of a wide variety of traditional and cutting-edge media to those on the treatment of Defoe and his works in the media of the postmodern age. We are also interested in publishing details about upcoming publications on Defoe, brief accounts of current research projects on Defoe, or pedagogical reports on or dynamic demonstrations of Defoe in the classroom, especially those that use innovative approaches and technologies. Information on recent Defoe conference panels is also welcome. Multimedia submissions using video, audio, images, hyperlinks, or other media are especially encouraged.

Submissions or inquiries should be sent by e-mail to co-editors Dr.
Katherine Ellison  (, Assistant Professor, Illinois State University ( and Dr. Holly Faith Nelson (, Associate Professor of English, Trinity Western University.

Submissions must be received no later than November 1, 2008. All submissions, including multimedia pieces, should include bibliographical documentation following MLA style.

For further information on the Defoe Society, go to (

[We wish the best of luck to Sharon Alker, Katherine Ellison, and Holly Faith Nelson, as well as the rest of the board of the Defoe Society.  You’ll also find a link to the Defoe Society in our blogroll]


my beautiful mommy?

Eszter Hargittai caused a little bit of a stir on Crooked Timber when she discussed the emotional division of labor between male and female professors.  She writes, for example,

Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs.

What set off Hargittai, and what further irritated her commentators was the way in which teacher/student interactions that we might call “mentoring” were reinterpreted as “mothering,” in either a positive or negative light (like this “gag” gift to a female colleague of Hargittai’s, which was supposed to seem playful, I think, but which ended up seeming simply odd)

On this question of mentoring-as-mothering, and whether it really is as deprofessionalizing as she claims, I think the anecdotes cut both ways, but I do think that a similar dynamic affects male teachers if they get perceived as “paternal” or “avuncular.”  And I don’t know if individuals have that much choice about how they might project authority to their students: if you really are a mother or a father, for example, are you not supposed to discuss this aspect of your life with your students and advisees?  Likewise, the age difference, or lack of age difference, between teacher and student has a huge impact on how one is received, but there isn’t much one can do about this besides dress “appropriately” for the occasion, however that gets defined.

But much of this debate seems to stem from our own discomfort with the emotional dimension of teaching and advising, and our unease with this unmanageable part of the jobs.


welcome ashore, matey

[image of Bartholomew Roberts (1682-1722) , aka “Black Bart,” courtesy of Wikimedia]

We just returned from our final trip of the summer, a cruise that took us to the Grand Caymans, Cozumel, and back to Ft. Lauderdale.  Hours after getting off the ship, I could still feel the waves surging underneath my feet.

Coming off a boat that was the size of a 10-story building laid on its side, a boat with all the grace of a submersible refrigerator, I was thinking about how little we fear ocean travel nowadays.  We used to associate the sea with risk and uncertainty.  And many still do experience it this way, at least those who work there, or who are seeking work.

And I suppose this is also why we still dream of pirates, since those were the lucky romantic few who managed to fight their way out of the routinized, regulated time of wage-labor, and paid dearly for that privilege.  But for the most part, we have opted for a mode of sea travel whose adventures are largely  devoid of risk, and created a “leisure industry” that must constantly remind travelers of the dangerous stateless men who were eradicated to make way for bars and buffets, which of course I enjoyed a great deal.

The strangest thing about spending extended time on a ship lies in the contrast in scale and sublimity between the boat’s teeming social life and what lies just beyond it: outside the ship, the water stretches out to the horizon, where it meets an equally vast and unremarkable sky; inside the ship, we are crouched together in even the largest staterooms, relieved to close a cabin door from time to time and find ourselves alone.  And yet we cling to the edges of the deck, mindful of the ocean all around us.


Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man

Once again, I apologize for such an extended absence. New York keeps getting more expensive, so I take on more teaching, and then try to fit degree progress in there somewhere. I’ve found setting unreasonable and frightening deadlines for myself to be just the thing. Currently, I’m getting the dissertation planned out for drafting. It’s the first time I’ve ever really needed to think about structure in a serious way, since it looks to be a rather enormous project and needs cement barricades around each chapter to keep any more texts from rushing in. I will hold off discussing the project any more here until more of it is done, since well-meaning suggestions of more things I could include will result in whimpering, and possibly tears.

For the fall, I’m planning three courses. One is a class at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women on eighteenth-century satire, and I’m very excited about it. Last semester at SCW, I did “The Gothic Novel,” which was an ideal first experience to have at a new teaching job. Nine novels of terror and romance, all about gender, class, race, nationality, religion, and criminal justice? Sometimes with ghosts? I need to do justice to my students, who were extremely smart and passionate, but whatever credit I might take goes to the books themselves. You couldn’t have a boring discussion about Wieland if you tried.

The satire course might be a bit tougher to sell. The material is great, of course, but it’s unnerving stuff. Just teaching Gulliver every semester is enough to depress me for three weeks. And Tristram Shandy is even more dangerous. What does one do if they don’t think it’s funny? Tap dance? Grimly lecture on Locke and then say “Haw, haw, get it?” Joke-explaining is, for me, the least rewarding part of teaching literature, so much so that I have instituted a rule after the first month of classes that I will only explain one joke per day. There is a certain kind of lecturing (and joke-explaining is the worst) that silences discussion instead of encouraging it. I feel it’s going to require a bit more effort on my part to keep the satire class from having too much chalk-and-talk.

Any ideas for making a class on satire more collaborative? I have had some good experiences with group exercises and Swift, but I haven’t taught Sterne before, other than small excerpts. All of my own classes on satire were particularly lecture-heavy, so I don’t have much to draw from.


[image courtesy of Let’s be friends, an interspecies friendship blog with implausibly cute photos]

This has been a productive summer, largely because I’ve been able to get a number of projects going with the help of collaborators.  Most of these are related in one way or another to pedagogy, and most involve the work I’m doing on-campus to improve undergraduate teaching and research at UH.  For some reason, the pedagogy stuff always feels easier to share.  I also think that focusing on the work aspect of it and students’ performance helps disable some of the anxieties I have about research and writing.

First of all, I’m co-authoring an article on my 1771 course with the special collections librarian who worked with me last spring, Ms. Julie Grob.  That piece will be done before the end of summer and submitted to a library journal.  Working with librarians over the past year has really impressed me with their collaborative skills,  because librarians always seem able to work together much more productively than I’ve found with faculty members.

I’m also fortunate enough to have an undergraduate research assistant, SG, who has done a terrific job vacuuming up primary and secondary sources for the 1771 book while getting on with her own research in the 18th century.  SG will be back in classes soon to finish up her final year, but in the meantime I’ll have a nice backlog of materials to sort through for the rest of this school year.  I’ve never directed undergraduate research like this before, but it seems much less fraught than directing graduate work, because it really is focused on the intellectual task at hand, rather than that plus all the professionalization issues that come with grad-level instruction.

Finally, on a more reflective note, I’ve been thinking a great deal about this talk on collaboration and the web by Mr. Clay Shirky.  Shirky discusses the institutional obstacles to collaboration in formal corporate structures (read: academic departments), which contrast with the informal collaborative structures of the web.  (Much of this talk seems to be a rehearsal for his exposition of these themes in his recent book/blog/etc. Here Comes Everybody)  At the same time, this somewhat churlish review by Felix Stalder hammers at some of the self-imposed limitations of Shirky’s approach to the web and its characteristic forms of organization.

While reading Stalder, however, I thought that it would be interesting to revisit contemporary accounts of the European Enlightenment, to see if we could similarly recognize the tension between the social interests of the Enlightenment’s “users,” and the commercial interests of its “proprietors.”  And perhaps one of the key legacies of the commercial Enlightenment lay not in its “ideas,” but in the social, political, and aesthetic organizations used to communicate them all over the world?  Nonetheless, what is more characteristic of Enlightenment thought than its interest in collaboration, and the collective pursuit of knowledge?