Auguste Desperret, The Third Eruption of the Volcano of 1789, 1833. Lithograph (hand-colored, with watercolor), 13.39 x 9.65 in. (34.00 x 24.50 cm.), University of Pittsburgh Library

One Thought Fills Immensity

This experimental post responds to the question I’ve been posing for myself for some time: what should I post when preparing for my exams, and have little time for words in the form of a blog? My answer came by way of an assignment I set for myself as part of my contemporary art and ecology exam reading  list. Watching the “Ecology” episode of Art21, I was struck by the sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard’s recalling of a time in her life when words were at a premium. In response, she spoke of continuing to “drink of the world by visual means.” And so, in this post, I wish to simply leave you all with a series of objects that have moved me to thought in various ways while studying for my nineteenth-century and contemporary art exams. I welcome comments on what responses to the images readers of the blog might have. Continue reading

Objective Reading

Reading is not one thing but many. Most of all, reading is not passive. “In reality,” writes Michel de Certeau in the opening of The Practice of Everyday Life, “the activity of reading has on the contrary all the characteristics of a silent production.” But what are we producing? And what does the scholarly practice of reading do to this production?

As graduate students we often expect ourselves somehow to swallow texts whole—to get them. We try mightily to read texts simultaneously in terms of their own coherence, elisions, and indeterminacies as textual systems, of their unconscious procedural expression of determinant historical conditions of possibility, of their own stated and unstated relations to their intellectual precursors, and in the light of their reception by scholars or later links in the canonical chain; we strive to keep in mind texts’ political ramifications, how their formal-generic elements engage with other morphologically-related texts, and their relative sympathy or antipathy to various major philosophical concerns or strands of ideological critique; we read texts to find out whether we can instrumentalize our readings for the purposes of conference papers, dissertation chapters, or course syllabi—and maybe to determine whether we like them. More often than not, while reading I am also planning on passing along certain passages to colleagues or photocopying them for friends outside of the academy; wondering whether I could get a pirated PDF instead of waiting the several days for Interlibrary Loan or maybe shelling out the cash for a nice sixties paperback copy of my own, speculating about the biography of the author or the business-end realities of the academic press in question, and so on. Continue reading

Graphic Learning: Examples of Well-Researched Comics

It seems pointless to argue that graphic novels have an important place in literature at this point. Personally, I took two classes during my undergraduate career that incorporated such texts (including Satrapi’s Persepolis and Bechdel’s Fun Home), but more often than not this is a rare occurrence and something I did not encounter in my graduate coursework. Graphic novels often do not get the attention they deserve, in part because many deem them déclassé due to their graphic nature and/or subject material, but also because they are hard to teach. While graphic novels can be analyzed through literary theory (and should be), the format itself, and most notably, the visual element of such narratives, are in a scholarly discipline all their own. One cannot teach, or even fully enjoy a graphic novel, without at least a bare minimum knowledge of art theory and visual composition. (Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods are good places to start.) But then again, neither of these things occupies some alien universe detached from what we as literary scholars already tackle. Continue reading

Planning My First Brit Lit Survey

At my university, the opportunities to teach an upper-level course are present but few. After passing comprehensive exams, you can apply to teach a survey course corresponding to your area of specialty. The second-half of British literature is particularly hard to come by, and typically a PhD candidate gets to teach it once before graduating. This is my semester, and I am thrilled!

I have been teaching general education classes for six years. I can count the number of English majors I have taught on one hand. But now, I have two full classes of English majors or minors, who ask me questions like, “Percy Shelley? Any relation to Mary Shelley?” (Isn’t it crazy to remember a time when we didn’t know every intimate detail of the Shelleys’ marriage?).

I am two days in. And here’s what I can report so far: I love my job.
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News: NASSR deadline extended!

Please note that the NASSR 2015 deadline for conference abstracts has been extended to February 7th, 2015. Information about the conference can be found here, and special session details are available here.

If you’re interested in participating in the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus Roundtable on Public Romanticism (in addition to any other speaking responsibilities at the conference), please see our CFP here. For details on the many fascinating special session panels organized by graduate students, consult this blog’s previous post.

We look forward to seeing you all in August!

A Year of Growth

The passing of a calendar year prompts reflection among many folks, including the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus co-chairs. Looking back, 2014 was a big year for the Caucus.

The NGSC Board doubled in size. After putting out a call for board members, Jake, Laura, and I were overwhelmed at the response. Graduate students at all levels (first year M.A. students to doctoral candidates), enrolled in universities across the country, volunteered their efforts and energy to expand the Caucus. For the first time, the co-chairs and board members met using Google Hangouts. More than twenty-five people participated in the meetings. Many of the ideas and changes that fill the rest of this post are the result of these meetings and the giving, thoughtful folks who make up our Board.

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Guest Post: Another Kind of “Gentlemen’s Club”: A Brief Illustrated History of an Institution

By Katherine Magyarody

Cirque du soleilThe contemporary gentlemen’s club may be encapsulated in the image of scantily clad women performing impressive acrobatic routines in front of a beery audience rather less capable of similar athleticism in a windowless building that clings to the seedier edges of town. It seems a fine irony that these strip joints, with their sticky, slick furniture, skewed sexual voyeurism and spilt beer take their moniker from establishments adjoining London’s centre of power, which excluded women, and had large windows from which the elite could watch the world outside without being seen.

Our modern gentleman’s club’s idea of the gentleman is as flat as its beer and as restricted as a bouncer’s facial expressions. There is a much more interesting story to be told, one that tracks the evolution of masculinity and gentility throughout the nineteenth century while touching on wider patterns of socialization. Continue reading

Romantic Midwinter Festivals

With New Year’s Day behind us, the holiday season may seem to be over… but the great Romanticism-inspired festivals of the bleak midwinter are just beginning. With its plethora of anniversaries, birthdays, saints’ days, and bicentennials, January offers many occasions to host scholarly-themed celebrations that will brighten up your new semester! Below is a sampler of top hits:

2015: Celebrate Artistic Bicentennials with This Reading List

Wordsworth, Collected Poems and The White Doe of Rylstone
Scott, Guy Mannering
Austen, Emma
Peacock, Headlong Hall
Byron, Hebrew Melodies
Shelley, Alastor (written 1815; published Feb. 1816)
Malthus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent
Schubert, Der Erlkönig
Grimm’s Fairy Tales, vol. 2 Continue reading

‘Tis the Season for Haunting: The Ghosts of Christmas Past

02CharlesDickens,ScroogeandMarlesghost,1stedChristmasCarol,ChapmanHall1843,CadburyResearchLibrary“‘Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, ‘Do you believe in me or not?’
‘I do,’ said Scrooge. ‘I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?’” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol 1843).

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol; A Ghost Story of Christmas has permeated each year’s cultural interpretation of the Christmas spirit, from adaptations like A Muppet Christmas Carol to commercials for the newest gadgets. It’s by far the most recognizable Christmas ghost story. Though we often think of Halloween as the most obvious time for telling ghost stories, Christmas used to hold that office. The Paris Review did an article about this tradition this month, with five recommendations for Christmas ghost stories. The days get shorter, the darkness rolls in and stays there, bringing the cold with it and inviting gatherings around the fireplace with warm drinks, warm company, but chilling tales.  I recently became a ghost guide for my town’s ghost walks through its eighteenth-century historic downtown. We mostly run through October, but we’ve started to embrace the traditionally haunting winter evenings (well, not me, with my low tolerance for PA winter temps). In doing the tours, I’ve seen first-hand how the atmosphere created by a small group of people, gathered close in the darkness around flickering candlelight, can produce a belief in ghosts. And it was in this spirit that Dickens drew on a long history of communal ghost stories. Continue reading

The Joy of Colloquium: Recipes for Workshop Success

It’s that time of year when we come together with those close to us to celebrate, before the year ends, the things that really matter… like conference proposals (NASSR’s is due January 17th!), chapter drafts, readings from new books, and the other standard fare of the nineteenth-century working group. But concocting the perfect colloquium moves beyond a craft to become an art form, and it is the aim of this post to give you some pointers on preparing that rare colloquium that is truly — well done.

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Resources for Graduate Students of Romanticism