Category Archives: ASECS

VIA the ASECS newsletter: Julie Hayes’ President’s Column, May 2013

[Julie Hayes asked me if she could re-post her May 2013 President’s Column  on the blog, and I agreed. Take a look, and hit “Reply” if you want to add to our ongoing discussion on the uses of literature and the humanities–DM]

“Why college?”

Julie Candler Hayes

My spring column is somewhat delayed this year (as was spring itself, in our region). The good feelings and intellectual recharge born of the April ASECS meeting in Cleveland quickly disappeared in the late-season avalanche of institutional demands. I continue to work through my stack of books on the state of American higher education. Having looked last time at Clayton Christensen’s less-than-edifying vision of disruption fueled by underpaid adjunct faculty and government-subsidized student loans to for-profits, I’m turning to two defenses of the humanities and liberal arts, Mark William Roche’s Why Choose the Liberal Arts? (2010) and Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (2012). I wanted very much to like both of these books, and there is much to enjoy in them: both are well-written, thoughtful meditations on the value of a liberal education. And yet…

I heard Mark Roche speak nearly fifteen years ago at a summer chairs’ seminars run by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. At the time, he’d recently finished a stint as chair of the German Department at Ohio State and had moved to Notre Dame as Dean of Arts and Letters. He spoke on ways that department chairs could promote their departments and the ideas came so quickly that I couldn’t write fast enough to get them all in my notes.[1] I picked up his 2010 book hoping for an equally intense blast of arguments for the humanities and strategies for changing the anti-intellectual bent of so much recent debate. This is a more philosophical book, however, an extended answer to the question asked by so many parents: “What can my child do with a major in…?” For Roche, the answer is three-fold. The liberal arts have intrinsic value, inspiring learning for its own sake; they cultivate the “intellectual virtues … requisite for success beyond the academy”; and they lead to the development of a sense of vocation, which he defines as “participation in a higher reality, a commitment to the transcendent.” Because the points are simple ones, the book defies simple paraphrase. It’s worth reading both for the subtlety of the ideas and for the moving evocations of personal experience, especially in the classroom. And I could not have agreed more on the reasons for serving as dean: “One can only assume such a role and persevere in it because one identifies with the goal of fostering learning, scholarship, and formation, and one recognizes the potential to impact the world more deeply in a position of leadership, even if at some level the impact is less embodied and more abstract than when working with many students and writing or researching full-time” (150).

I sighed, therefore, when I encountered an all-too familiar suggestion that college education too often fails in its mission by faculty who substitute “low ambitions” for great ideas and teach only “mediocre books that derive from faculty research interests or ideological perspectives” (32). Roche points to Stanley Fish’s May 2003 Chronicle essay, “Aim Low.” It’s unfortunate, because while Roche and Fish might never be able to speak the same language of morality and higher calling, they certainly both champion rigorous thought and eschew platitudes—Fish’s chief target in his essay.

I experienced a similar momentary disappointment in Andrew Delbanco’s book. Delbanco’s sense of what college is “for” is as high-minded as Roche’s, but as the title suggests his approach is historical and polemical. Delbanco underscores the fault-lines in self-congratulatory narratives about expanding educational access, arguing that colleges and universities “have lately been reinforcing more than ameliorating the disparity of wealth and opportunity in American society” (122) and drawing analogies between the decline of students’ educational experience and that of faculty careers: “the gap is widening between the majority and the select few” (142). His final chapter, “What is to be done?” is maddeningly brief, offering glimpses of a few “high-tech” and “low tech” solutions, before focusing, oddly, on the need for “teachers who care about teaching.” Given his own analysis of the social, political, and economic challenges facing higher education, why turn to the evils of professionalization and the purported disconnect between teaching and research?[2]

Both Roche and Delbanco are literary scholars. Presumably, we all came of age during the same period, riding the wave of the theoretical turn in literary studies in the 1970s. Their experiences were perhaps different from mine. I remain unconvinced that attentiveness to form, to the rusing strategies of language, to the imbrication of discourses within one another, is somehow alien to intellectual ambition, to educating for democracy. Au contraire, collègues!

[1] Fortunately, the talk was published: Mark W. Roche, “Strategies for Enhancing the Visibility and Role of Foreign Language Departments,” ADFL Bulletin Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 1999), 10–18.

[2] For an infinitely cruder version of this argument, see a recent opinion piece by Chris Buczinsky and Robert Frodeman in Inside Higher Ed:

Proposal for a Race and Empire Caucus at ASECS

[I just saw this announcement on the Eighteenth-Century Questions group at Facebook, and thought it would be a good idea to cross-post at the Long 18th.  Take a look, and if you’re interested or have further questions, please reply to Suvir Kaul or Ashley Cohen at or  Thanks, DM]


In an attempt to make ASECS a more conducive and productive environment for scholarly exchange on the issues of race and empire, we are proposing to establish a Race and Empire caucus. ASECS procedures require us to collect a requisite number of signatures. Please consider our proposal (below) and reply to or with your name and departmental affiliation if you would like to sign. We would be much obliged if you would forward this e-mail to like-minded friends, colleagues, and students.

We have also organized a Race and Empire roundtable in Cleveland in support of our efforts and would be delighted to see you all there.


Ashley Cohen and Suvir Kaul

The rise of European sea-borne trade and colonialism is the central geopolitical fact of eighteenth-century history. It is thus impossible to understand the domestic social formations and cultures of eighteenth-century Europe in isolation from a global framework that acknowledges and takes into account the histories of European exploration, commerce, conquest, colonialism, and slavery in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, and the Americas. These simple propositions form the basis for our present proposal to found an ASECS caucus dedicated to the constitutively linked issues of Race and Empire. We feel that the systematic study of these issues has been significantly underrepresented at ASECS’s annual conference in years past, even as occasional panels on such issues gather large audiences. A Race and Empire Caucus will ensure that ASECS consistently provides a forum for discussing and developing innovative critical approaches to eighteenth century histories and legacies of imperialism and slavery, as well as to the strategies of racialization that were central to both of these institutions. It is our hope that a Race and Empire Caucus will promote intellectual solidarity, create community, and foster collaboration, transforming ASECS’s annual meeting into a venue that consistently offers vibrant and vigorous discussions of these issues.

asecs 2013 cfp: religious toleration

After the exchanges we had last spring about alternative formats for ASECS presentations, I was pleased to see this CFP by Laura Stevens and Patrick Mello for their proposed Religious Toleration panel at ASECS 2013:

The panel topic is “Religious Toleration,” (#216 on the CFP) and we are structuring it as a “closed colloquium.” Basically, instead of having a few scholars present their work to an audience, we want to gather a group of 10-12 scholars working on this topic to have a highly focused conversation, perhaps leading to collaborative projects and ongoing dialogue. Participants will submit short position papers about three weeks before the conference and arrive having read each other’s papers. There probably will also be some preliminary communications over email before the conference.

This is a format that other academic societies such as the Modernist Studies Association have been using for a while, and we thought we would try it out for ASECS. If it worked well for ASECS, our hope was that other members might propose occasional colloquia on other topics in future years. The consensus in these other organizations seems to be that the conversational dynamic of these sessions becomes disrupted when there are more than a very few non-participant observers. We therefore are closing this session to those who are not participating in it and have not done all the reading beforehand. We can include up to two observers (if, for example, there are ASECS members who would like to see how the format works), but we ask that you contact us about this before the conference. Observers also are required to stay for the entire session, so that their arrival and departure don’t disrupt the discussion.

I’m interested to see how this works, because I’ve seen more and more workshop-style formats at other conferences, and I think this could be hugely beneficial for those doing research in this area.  It could become a kind of conference-within-a-conference, or what in pedagogy we call a “fishbowl.”  This has the potential to open up new and unaccustomed forms of dialogue and collaboration in a conference setting.  I certainly hope that Stevens and Mello will find others intrigued by this possibility.

And now, here’s the CFP itself:

216. ―Religious Toleration Colloquium (Closed Colloquium) Patrick Mello AND Laura Stevens, English Dept., U. of Tulsa, 800 S. Tucker Dr. Tulsa, OK 74104; Tel: (918) 631-2859; Fax: (918) 631-3033; E-mail: and

The inscription of toleration into English law in 1689 has long been hailed by scholars of eighteenth-century history, politics, and culture as fundamental to the rise of mercantilism, the development of Enlightenment thought, the formation of the United Kingdom, and the foundation of the United States. In recent years, however, the inadequacy of such a Whig narrative has become increasingly apparent for the study of toleration within Britain. Moreover, work on this topic has been flourishing in several disciplines and areas both outside and across the Anglophone world.

This colloquium is intended to foster a rigorous and long-lasting critical dialogue among scholars interested in reexamining the significance of toleration and religious difference in the eighteenth century from a variety of perspectives. Rather than featuring the results of individual research, this format will encourage scholars already working in this area to

undertake a collective assessment of the state of the field. Our central goal is to map religious toleration as a concept and as a category of analysis in the eighteenth century as well as in contemporary scholarship. Key questions to be addressed will include the following:

What counted as religious toleration in the eighteenth century? How did this term alter with its deployment across context and region, and with its attachment to different religious groups? How did debates over toleration inflect or intensify discussions of topics such as statecraft, class, colonialism, economy, gender and war?

When and how did cultural climates and individual attitudes of toleration exceed or fall short of codified forms of protection for religious freedom and diversity?

How has the study of religious toleration moved forward in various disciplines and in different geographical arenas of study? Where and how are we hindered or helped by interdisciplinary, transnational, or comparative approaches to this topic? What are the most important, fruitful, and challenging areas for future study?

Prospective participants are invited to submit 100-200 word statements describing their past or current work on this topic and outlining the central questions, issues, or concerns they wish to address in the colloquium.

Any other ASECS CFPs catching your eye?


so what does it all mean? looking back at asecs 2012–open thread

[image from Yvonne Romney Dixon, Designs from Fancy, Folger exhibit guide to George Romney’s Shakespearean drawings]

I’m posting this picture of Lear to remind us all of Joe Roach’s fine Clifford Lecture of March 24th, which deployed a different Romney Lear sketch to fine effect.  Somehow, Roach moved from his usual discussion of Victorian kitsch Restoratiana to something very different: the theatrically-coded exchanges of an aristocratic father and daughters in the World’s Worst Eighteenth-Century Family.

So that was one of my high points for ASECS.  I’ve got others, but I’m curious about which panels readers found most useful for their own research and teaching.   What panels or papers were your highlights? Hit the comment button and let us know.  And I’d love to hear from any presenters if they have additional insights they’d like to share about their panel discussions.

There were also some interesting side-conference activities, in terms of THAT Camp and tweetering. I’m glad both these activities were there (though I couldn’t make THAT Camp), but I still think ASECS could be made much more available to online users, and archived better, than it currently is.  Any thoughts about how these activities added to the conference, or could be better integrated into the event?

My final comment would be a plea to the organizers of ASECS 2013 to think much more reflectively about the presentation formats for the day’s panels.  The roundtables help, but the default mode for the majority of presentations is back to back papers and very little Q&A.   I think we could be doing a lot more to vary the presentations, to make them more interactive, and to allow better feedback between presenters and audiences than the current set up.

Otherwise, it can easily become this:



asecs thread

Since I’m starting to get announcements and queries, I thought I’d open up this thread about ASECS as we continue our discussion of Warner, Siskin, and cultural studies.  Please post any announcements etc. regarding ASECS here, in our comments.



The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies

As you’re all thinking about panel proposals for next year’s ASECS, we’re going to revisit the conversation from a panel at last year’s meeting:  “The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies.”  Over the new few weeks we will be posting essays based on comments delivered at this panel, as well as some follow-up ideas that were not presented at the panel.

The inspiration for the panel that generated the essays that will follow came from two directions: first, from an observation that the Group for Early Modern Cultural Students (GEMCS), originally conceived to bring together scholars from a range of pre-1900 fields, has been attracting mostly students and professors in the field formerly known as “Renaissance;” and second, from the publication of William B. Warner and Clifford Siskin’s essay, “Stopping Cultural Studies.”  As chair of the Cultural Studies Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), I proposed a session that combined these topics called “The Beginnings and Ends of Cultural Studies.”  While these two topics are not obviously related, both share certain challenges.  GEMCS had lively conferences, but never quite succeeded as much as was hoped in opening up the possibility of more integrated and far-reaching considerations of literature and culture across field divisions.  Partly, I think, this is due the fact that while twenty years ago the phrase “early modern” offered a range of possibilities, it has now, at least professionally, simply replaced “Renaissance,” so younger scholars coming into the discipline cannot be blamed for (mistakenly) assuming that a paper on Jane Austen would have no place at a GEMCS meeting.   Perhaps, though, there is a deeper issue as well and that recent stresses on the profession as a whole have made field distinctions even more important. If you can only go to one conference every year, it might be a better investment to seek out other specialists.  While decisions based on travel budgets are understandable, we nevertheless need to continue to think about ways to promote research and teaching that move beyond the limits of periodization.

While some of the papers on the panel considered periodization, most more centrally addressed the problem of Cultural Studies.  Warner and Siskin propose that we abandon the entire enterprise called “cultural studies,” although they do not offer an alternative and insist that they are under no obligation to do so.  They see two main problems with cultural studies as currently practiced: (1) that the term “culture” hides the doubled meanings of Culture (meaning great works of art, literature, etc.) and culture (meaning everyday practices, “non-literary” texts, etc.) and that (2) as a result we have been unable to “transcend previous limits” (104).  Much as we try to move beyond them, we keep getting pulled back to traditional objects of study and traditional disciplinary boundaries. 

            The panel attracted considerable attention, perhaps in part as a result of the rhetorical flair involved in telling one’s colleagues to cut it out.  Warner and Siskin are right that “culture” is a “Teflon category.”  But if the category contains so much slippage, how will we be able to tell when we’ve stopped?  Wouldn’t anything produced after stopping be easily folded back into this category?  How is “remediation”—the only suggestion of an alternative in the essay—not part of “culture”?  Their suggestion to stop cultural studies is so intriguing, disturbing, and puzzling,  I think, because in practical terms—and as defined by Warner and Siskin– it translates into stopping literary scholarship altogether, as cultural studies has become so amorphous as to encompass everything but perhaps New Criticism, to which few are clamoring to return in its original restricted form.  Thus, I think this essay provokes a key professional anxiety of our moment: that we will be stopped altogether.

            Over the next month or two, we will be posting the brief comments written by the panelists who participated, who attended, and/or who have something to say about this issue.   These essays take seriously the possibly of stopping, but also explore ways to get started again.  They look at cultural studies in the broader context of disciplinary survival.  Some address how cultural studies has disturbed, challenged, and stretched departments and curricula.  And yet if, in spite of this turbulence, cultural studies ultimately, as Warner and Siskin suggest, preserves rather than upends, then maybe it has been the ally of literary study all along.  Warner and Siskin observe that cultural studies has insufficiently transformed institutional practice; some of the essays, however, record experiences of grappling with the opposite objection: that cultural studies has changed department offerings too much.  Both objections point to a concern that literature department curricula are somehow not aligned with the needs, desires, or ideal education of today’s students.  I wonder, then, if taking this common ground seriously might lead us to another way into the problem.  Perhaps we might think about ways to move from this one-way street to a two-ways street; that is, to think about what we want students to learn as not only shaped by our research programs, but as itself a partner in further inquiry.


Works Cited

Warner, William B. and Clifford Siskin. “Stopping Cultural Studies.” Profession (2008): 94-107. Print.

an open thread: what were your favorite talks at ASECS this year?

I’ve got some thoughts of my own, but I’d like to hear from some folks about their favorite presentations, papers, roundtables, or panels this year at ASECS?  What’s going to stick with you as you think about your own research or teaching?