Category Archives: conferences

ASECS 2009: March 26

Should contributors attending this year’s meeting of ASECS have tech enough and time, please use the comments thread of this post to record your experience of the conference today.

Text? Photos? Audio? Video? Share them, please.

[See “The Art of Live Blogging,” by Beth Kanter at BlogHer (26 July, 2006).]



virtual burns memorial

[note: Sharon Alkers asked me to post this on her behalf]

Contest to Create Virtual Burns Memorial

The Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University is holding a contest to create a virtual memorial to Robert Burns that is suitable for a twenty-first century mobile and globalized world. Statues, busts and portraits played an important part in interpreting Burns in nineteenth-century culture. We are looking for an image more suitable for our contemporary time and media in order to convey the fact that Burns’s messages regarding universal brotherhood (and, by extension, sisterhood), respect for nature, and the uplifting power of the human spirit have never been more relevant. The deadline for entry is April 1, 2009. The winning design will be awarded $300 (Canadian) and will appear in Second Life on SFU’s island. (Second Life is a virtual environment increasingly popular with students and educators interested in collaborative virtual learning). The unveiling will be at the Transatlantic Burns Conference, April 7-9 at SFU. For more details or to submit an entry (preferably in digital format), contact: Leith Davis at

For more information, visit the Scottish Studies at SFU website here.

SCSECS redux


[image from Rowlandson’s “Comforts of Bath,” from Caryn Chaden’s terrific Images of Eighteenth-Century Bath website.]

Despite Hurricane Ike’s pulverization of Galveston and a last-minute move to a new location in Corpus Christi, TX, this year’s SCSECS conference seemed pretty successful to me.  As mentioned in the last thread, some long-time friends and members of the Long Eighteenth (Gena Zuroski, Dwight Codr, ) were there,  along with some friends whose work I’ve followed for a while (Michael Rotenberg-Schwarz and Matt Landers), and I also met a number of people whose work  I’ll be looking for in the future.  The number of attendees was probably down a bit because of the change in venue, but the reduced scale did make for a more convivial atmosphere.  I was also encouraged by the grad student papers, which were ambitious and knotty enough to keep the seniors on their toes.

For me, one of the highlights was Dave Radcliffe’s plenary talk, “No Man but a Blockhead: What the Eighteenth Century can Teach us about Digital Humanities,” which he gave at the Texas State Aquarium in front of a glass wall featuring a pair of graceful synchronized dolphins.  Since I’ve got my own take on Radcliffe’s topic, I’m going to blog it in a separate post, but I’d love to hear others’ reactions about this talk, which was as much about the changing infrastructures of contemporary literary research as it was about the historical parallels between 18c and contemporary scholarship.

I think we have reached the point where we consider the conditions under which we were trained (the hegemony of literature over sub-literature, English studies over American and ethnic studies, liberal arts education over corporate/scientific models of research, tenured faculty over part-time, etc.) to be historical conditions, i.e., “vanished” or “entirely gone,” whatever our feelings about the matter.

Looking over the program and my notes, I was struck by how this set of institutional changes was reflected in the increased attention to the pedagogical circumstances in which we now teach 18c literature, with all the attendant difficulties of leading undergraduate students to grasp an unfamiliar set of terms, styles, conventions, etc. , especially when literary conventions and practices themselves seem as remote as anything we teach in the 18c.  How to explain the differences in style between Tom Jones and contemporary novels, when students are more likely to be reading Manga novels or surfing the net for their leisure reading?

At the same time, discursive analyses of non-literary texts and contexts still seem popular, at least in the grad papers, but these for the most part are still directed toward securely canonical literary texts, without a lot of attention to how notions of genre and literariness are constructed in the period.

In some ways, I’d feel better if graduate student work reflected rather than resisted this relativization of print culture, with a more comparative sense of signification in a variety of media: e.g., not just studies of objects and object-narratives as a sub-genre of 18c writing, but studies of 18c objects and how they line up with other kinds of things in the period.

This is a tall order, but I think it would help us understand the strangeness of our own historical moment, and our own sense of alienation from post-WWII literary criticism, that much better.  But this is just my own sense of how we might extend “literary studies” into the future.


Writing Women 1700-1800 Symposium

Bryan Waterman at NYU just sent me a link to their upcoming symposium, “Writing Women 1700-1800,” and it looks really exciting! The plenary talk is by Paula Backsheider, and other speakers include April Alliston, Toni Bowers, Joanna Brooks, Simon Dickie, and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, and Mary Poovey will be the respondent.

April 10-11th at NYU’s Fales Library and Special Collections

Hope to see you there!

Cultural Studies and the BABL

The 18th-century cultural studies panel from MLA provided an excellent discussion about the opportunities and limitations of cultural studies as pedagogy, especially in the undergraduate classroom, and has got me thinking about ways to solve, or at least massage, some of the problems discussed on the panel, using some of the resources that are cropping up for instructors as guides for my students. The main problem that emerged during the cultural studies panel and the ECCO panel that morning was the lack of a guide to navigate the wealth of contextualizing sources available to our students, many of whom lack the research experience and intuition necessary to decide what is relevant to the study of a historical text and what may not yield a fruitful contextualization.

One of the resources I’m excited to have accessed is the Broadview Anthology of British Literature’s Instructor’s Guide, which I contributed to last summer. I got a passcode for these materials at Broadview’s display at the convention, and am very pleased to see the materials assembled there, which I can see using quite actively in the classroom. The guides generally provide a series of critical approaches to the authors, a few thoughtful readings of their major works, some questions for discussion, some material on critical responses to the works, and often a nice section of texts that provide some cultural context for the work. Although not all of the authors are covered yet, the ones that are provide a sort of roadmap to criticism and historical sources for many of the authors and texts we teach at the undergraduate level.

Obviously, the guides provided by BABL are limited in that the historical sources they suggest are those chosen by whatever scholar wrote the draft of the guide, but they do offer, at least, positive suggestions (i.e., something like “Try looking here”) as opposed to the negative suggestions we often find ourselves making to undergraduate researchers (“No, that’s probably not going to be a good source; try again”). My own guide, on Swift, reflects my personal interests in popular print culture and political economies, and is therefore quite limited, beyond some suggestions about other topics to research. However, I hope it offers something like what I offer students in class who simply don’t know where to start—a suggestion of a few leads that have the potential to produce an exciting research project, leading to further research more specific to that student’s interests.

One of the most exciting things, pedagogically, for those of us who encourage historical research in literature classes, is that our students may find wonderful sources that we’ve never encountered before, and make excellent connections we haven’t thought of. Those who have a knack for sussing out sources and making interesting conclusions can respond to an open-ended research assignment with passionate inquiry. However, at the undergraduate level, these open-ended research assignments can result, as Dwight Codr suggested during the panel, in a kind of despair.

In my own historical-research wiki assignment, in which I offered 70 narrow topics for research to my students, the results were either inspiringly brilliant or depressingly nonexistent. Quite a few students chose to take a zero for the assignment rather than complete the work, and a great number did only cursory and often inappropriate research (citing other student-made websites rather than primary sources, etc.), despite a great deal of class-time devoted to discussion of how to find and use primary sources. I eventually had to make the assignment extra-credit, so as not to fail a third of each of my classes. I assumed at the time that the project itself was doomed, but now I wonder if the problem was that one must not just teach students to do primary source research; one must model it for them by guiding them to examples of appropriate sources first, not just topics and suggestions for where to look.

What I hope to use the BABL guide for next semester is to mine it for historical sources that I can assign directly to students who do not readily come up with sources of their own, and to assign them the contextualization work suggested by the guides and by my own previous reading experiences. Once they have followed a path that previous scholars have found fruitful, perhaps they can then be more attuned to the kinds of sources they might look for in future assignments. After all, most of us learned to do contextualizing research by reading professional historicist criticism, not by slogging blind through special collections or databases. We learn to do this work largely by example, not by trial and error.

The problem in the past, for me, has been that my reading of primary sources outside of literature has largely been in special collections that my students do not have access to, and little of it has been the kind of stuff that interests my students. While I’d love to get them all interested in the Gentleman’s Magazine or in Coke’s Institutes of the Lawes of England, I can’t necessarily expect them all to travel from their homes on Long Island to midtown Manhattan to spend four or five hours trying to decipher typefaces totally unfamiliar to them, and expect them to find something critically interesting and relevant to the class, and expect them to then draw knowledgeable and well-written conclusions about those sources that their classmates will then read and use. Out of the past 200 or so students I’ve urged to go use a special collection for their research, exactly one student actually did it, and she ended up citing almost nothing she read there.

Although the BABL guides don’t tend to reproduce entire sources, they do often provide a few pages of contextualizing sources, from which a student could at least get a hint of whether she wants to spend time looking further at that source or not. On a larger scale, one could imagine a resource like the BABL guides, except perhaps in a wiki form, with suggestions by scholars of possible contextualizing sources for major authors or genres and short excerpts, as well as lists of places to find these resources on the web, on EEBO or ECCO, or in special collections. This would take a great deal of time and energy on instructors’ and scholars’ parts, but, if Wikipedia has taught us anything, it’s that human beings are glad to expend energy in a collective way if there is the promise of an output greater than their individual input.

Do we think it’s possible for literary and cultural-studies scholars, a turf-warfare bunch if ever there was one, to cooperate in some kind of project like this? Would it be best to run it somewhat like Wikipedia, with mostly pseudonymous authorship and editing? Would it be a gigantic disaster?

-Carrie Shanafelt

The Long 18th MLA cultural studies pedagogy panel wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who showed up at 7 pm last Friday night to hear the panel that Laura Rosenthal and I put together–these were the brave people who tromped through the Chicago snow to hear Tom DiPiero, Carl Fisher, Laura Engel, Dwight Codr and I present our roundtable about cultural studies and pedagogy, while Laura R. moderated. 

 I won’t try to summarize individual presentations, but here are a few points from the conversation that I think others might find helpful while trying to introduce cultural studies methodologies into the undergraduate classroom.

  • Panelists generally agreed that they moved pretty regularly between literary and cultural studies in their own research, but that students needed far more direction and practice to make those connections themselves, especially when dealing with the open-endedness of cultural studies-style writing assignments. 
  • Unsurprisingly for a group of 18th-century scholars, historicization and contextualization played a crucial, recurring role in their teaching process, so that students could begin to understand the stark differences between their own understandings and those of earlier readers and writers.  Yet panelists also stressed the need for students to develop an awareness of parallels between 18th century experiences and their own, to engage students better in what might otherwise seem an “antiquarian” activity. 
  • Historicizing the writing of the past, however, was by no means a straightforward task, because students could be surprisingly selective, literal-minded, resistant, or myopic in their responses to classroom contextualizations, whether in the form of lectures or supplementary readings.  Here a cluster of related problems appeared:  
    • For one thing, various mediating contexts offered by professors  (e.g., the critique of luxury), because they are neither self-sufficient nor discrete, might themselves require as much explanation as the primary text they supposedly “help to explain” (e.g., the Rape of the Lock).  Teaching students the necessarily open-ended nature of contextualization seems one of the key differences between cultural studies and literary studies, but it does complicate the foreground/background distinction in instruction. 
    • Assuming that we do wish to teach students to resist premature closure in interpretations, what then constitutes an adequate contextualization?  Essentially, this means teaching them principles of appropriate closure, rather than taking such conclusions for granted.  Especially frustrating in this respect is the student who gets prematurely fixated on a single context, and feels obliged to defend that one instead of learning and mastering new contexts to refine her readings further. 
    • Moreover, even students who appear to have mastered previous contexts might find themselves unable to use the same information in subsequent research and writing.  As frustrating as this is for instructors, it’s worth thinking about this as a reflection of a (necessarily) truncated learning-process.  Students, for example, may not yet be able to recognize or understand the connectedness of the various contexts they have learned separately and successively, and so find themselves unable to integrate them during more synthetic writing assignments.  So the challenge of acquiring historical awareness involves learning about the specific articulations between and among multiple contexts.  Learning how to assess and balance multiple contexts also aids in the process of learning to write about these contexts in a reasonably integrated fashion in the service of an overarching argument.  Because historicization demands that students surrender their own frameworks for understanding,  teaching it accordingly demands a non-linear process, rather like writing instruction, characterized by students’ successive approximations, followed feedback, and corrections from the instructor.
  • Nonetheless, panelists agreed that certain “shortcuts” (Fisher’s term) could aid students in their quest for greater historical understanding: Fisher, for example, talked about the use of visual culture, especially film, as a way to force students to engage with the period and its narratives in new ways; others mentioned more scholarly forms of alienation and/or assimilation devices, such as translation exercises or annotated bibliographies and book reviews.  These functioned as historical and pedagogical metaphors, which allowed students to assimilate unfamiliar practices to their own understanding, or accommodate this or that new piece of information with a revised understanding of the past.  The crucial point here, as Hugh C. Petrie has argued about educational uses of metaphor, is that such occasional historical analogies (e.g., “Jonathan Swift is an 18th century Stephen Colbert”) constitute one of the most effective ways for students to remember what they learn, help them move from familiar to unfamiliar conceptual schemes, and help to ground and direct their activities as they solve concrete problems (cf. Petrie, “Metaphor and learning,” 460-1, in Metaphor and Thought, ed. Ortony (Cambridge, 1979)).
  • Finally, the final research assignment, because it relied so heavily on students’ ability to pursue independently a project to completion, seemed to produce mostly anxiety among students and disappointment for instructors.  Final papers were often incoherent or at the very least innocent of the theoretical lessons of the previous 14 weeks.  But cultural studies methodologies, particularly de Certeau’s notion of “use,” should caution us against expecting a perfect “reproduction” of classroom lectures or readings from students, whatever their background. 

And here are a few of my own responses to a very useful discussion:

  • We had a very interesting question from the audience about reconciling the divergent views of the 18th century as, for example, the “Age of Stability,” the “Age of Enlightenment,” the “precursor to the French Revolution,” “the birth of Conservatism,” “the origin of Human Rights,” or “the heyday of slavery.”  etc. etc.  No one on the panel was eager to synthesize such disparate interpretations of our period, but I do think that it is the impact of cultural studies, and its radically indeterminate notions of culture and period organization, that make it possible to frame such questions nowadays.  We do demand such intellectual and moral complexity in representations of the period nowadays.
  • I like the way that cultural studies has reinvigorated the literary category of “context,” but I also suspect that the current lack of interest in the boundaries between the literary and the cultural may also allow us to forget about the wealth of non-literary (i.e., non-verbal, meaning visual, documentary, or institutional) contexts that could inform what we do.  These could easily be neglected in an overly “textualized” cultural studies.
  • Laura asked a very good question about the political implications or effects of cultural studies in the academy nowadays, and this to me was the biggest unanswered question that emerged during the forum.  Codr’s work on ECCO addressed some of this implicitly, but the emphasis on historicization in some ways leads us away from the questions of present political significance.

Any thoughts about this, either from participants or those who didn’t make it to MLA?  Let us know.

Best wishes,


MLA, I’m on my way . . .

For anyone interested in getting together for some drinks or coffee or whatever, I’ll be at MLA between the 27th and 29th.  Contact me here or offlist at dmazella at

And here’s the announcement of our Friday evening panel, for anyone interested:

 375. Cultural Studies and Eighteenth-Century Studies in the Classroom

7:15–8:30 p.m., Mississippi, Sheraton Chicago

A special session

Presiding: Laura Rosenthal, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

Speakers: Dwight Codr, Tulane Univ.; Thomas P. Di Piero, Univ. of Rochester; Laura T. Engel, Duquesne Univ.; Carl H. Fisher, California State Univ., Long Beach; David Samuel Mazella, Univ. of Houston, University Park

It looks like a great lineup, and I hope to see some of you there. 

Things have been quiet around here for the last few weeks, but if you’re giving a paper or chairing a panel, let us know.

UPDATE: here’s the Literature Compass Blog pre-MLA round-up, which mentions us and a bunch of other panels.  And here’s the MLA convention listing, for easy searching.