Category Archives: Conference Digests

COP21: Opinion Piece

Forum during Women and Gender Day in Climate Generations Area, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2014
Forum during “Women and Gender Day” at the Climate Generations Area open to the Public, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2015. Photograph by the author

Introduction: It’s been two and a half weeks since the COP21 concluded, and it has taken as long for me to feel I could begin forming my own perspective on the events. In one of the last remaining assemblies where all nations are equitably represented, according to the aspirations of the mission, and progress is made only by consensus, 196 countries for the first time in history reached agreement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC. The unity necessary for nations to together begin addressing industrially-produced greenhouse gas emissions was at last achieved. I believe, in part despite the criticisms of the agreement leveled by members of both the diverse global political left and and right, that when placed in the proper, nuanced, and historical perspective, the accord represents a terrific and tremendous success.  Indeed, if there was one strain of pessimism many of my friends and associates expressed before and during the conference, it was that the event would represent only “médiaques,” simply “media hype,” the image of progress without the substance of promise and action. In this post, I engage in a critical reflection on the Paris Agreement, offer my optimistic sense of what it offers, what it leaves to be done, and a speculation on where we go from here. It is my position that is precisely the image of the accord–as opposed to its actuality–that will make what it purposeively aims to do achievable. Towards this end, I also include some of my favorite images from the ArtCOP21 festival and climate-related events in which I was fortunate enough to participate.

Continue reading COP21: Opinion Piece

« Make It Work » : Velocities of Engagement, The COP21 Forum and Nuit Blanche 2015

As I detailed in my first post this academic year, I am in Paris on a critical theory fellowship studying French philosophy and environmental history. This month, two particularly significant events took place: the first–as part of the “Make It Work” initiative at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (« Sciences Po »)–was Forum COP21: Civil Society Committed to the Environment; the second was the 2015 iteration of the Nuit Blanche arts festival, where the city stays up all night to look at art. This year’s theme, fittingly in support of COP21, and as part of ArtCOP21, was “atmospheres.”

In this post, I detail both events. My intent is to be more journalistic than interpretive, leaving the content of these events open as much as possible for interpretation by the blog’s audience, excepting a few places where I bring the methods of environmental history and critical thought into play, and experiment with some quantitative analysis of environmental issues.

Continue reading « Make It Work » : Velocities of Engagement, The COP21 Forum and Nuit Blanche 2015

Dickens in Eden, 2.0

NASSR-time is upon us, and I am very excited to see many of our Romanticist writers and readers in Winnipeg! Readers can expect an update on the conference — and particularly the sessions for graduate students — next week. But first, I’d like to give my report on The Dickens Universe 2015, which I attended for the first time at UC Santa Cruz at the beginning of this month. This annual week-long event is part academic conference, part professionalism workshop, part Victorian reenactment, and part summer camp: it brings together faculty and graduate students from the US and abroad, but also “Road Scholars” of all ages whose admiration for Boz brings them back each year to discuss a new novel. And, while Dickens isn’t strictly part of the Romanticist repertoire, the conference has much to offer for the aspiring nineteenth-century aficionado/a. Continue reading Dickens in Eden, 2.0

NASSR 2015 Program & Pedagogy Contest

I’m delighted to announce that NASSR 2015 has released a program! Highlights of the August 13-16 conference in Winnipeg will include: tours of the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company (the world’s oldest continuously-operating corporation) and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights; plenaries by Joel Faflak (Western) and Nancy Yousef (CUNY-Baruch); and an Aboriginal Rights Roundtable. Also of note — in addition to participating in many panels, the members of the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus will be hosting a professionalization panel and a pub night.

I also have an update about the NASSR Pedagogy Contest, sponsored by the NASSR Advisory Board, the NASSR 2015 Organizing Committee, and Romantic Circles. Please send in your syllabuses by June 5th to be considered for the Pedagogy award (which comes with a cash prize of $250). Here are the instructions:

TO SUBMIT:

Please send a document of between 3-5 pages to nassrpedagogycontest@gmail.com by June 5th.  Please include a cover letter with identifying information, which should be left off all other documents.  Initial queries and questions are welcomed.

Potential materials might include but are not limited to:
– A cover letter and explanation of the submission, including an argument as to the course or project’s pedagogical innovation and benefits
– Syllabus or parts of a syllabus
– Assignment sheets
– Multimedia or digital materials

Symposium on the Biological Turn in Literary Studies

Last month the Duke English Department and the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory hosted a symposium on “the biological turn in literary studies.” It was, from my perspective, an exciting and successful event, and will likely be of interest to many of us in the NGSC. It would be very difficult for me to do justice to the first-rate talks of the individual presenters in only a brief description; below I offer merely a round-up of the premises of the different talks, and I would encourage everyone to check out the linked videos for any (and all!) of those talks that catch your attention. My great thanks to Rob Mitchell and Nancy Armstrong for organizing the symposium, and to Davide Carozza and Stefan Waldschmidt for making the whole thing happen and for making the videos available to a wider public!

Continue reading Symposium on the Biological Turn in Literary Studies

Quarterly Editor’s Note: To Spring

“Turn thine angel eyes upon our western isle
which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring”

-William Blake, “To Spring”

How true Blake’s words ring for this Chicagoan continuing to warm following the coldest winter on record. And so I write to wish all involved in the romantic studies blog(e)sphere a very collegial start to spring! Unsurprisingly, over the last few months, NGSC authors have continued to produce innovative work at a highly energetic pace. In what follows–and in my final such post of the year–I look back at some of what I found to be among the more incisive thoughts and ideas disseminated on the NGSC blog from January through April. NGSC authors wrote on topics of critical importance to a range of our constituents across the humanities (and beyond), covering such subjects as collaborative modes of engagement, the process building a trajectory of thought and insight between one’s undergraduate training and studies at the graduate level, to the place of economics and literature. We also published advice from established scholars in the field on preparing for comprehensive exams. The winter writing season was an important one for the NGSC.

The start to the year saw the publication of the blog’s first collaborative post, composed by Arden Hegele, artist in (e-)residence Nicole Geary, and myself on Romanticism and Geology. The piece took the form of a free flowing conversation, and ended up centering on how the material forms and discourses surrounding geology become factors of both romantic literary and contemporary art production. This allowed connections between nineteenth- and twentieth-century art and literature to become visible for us, particularly as creative investments in geology inform shared concerns with respect to art and politics. At an especially illuminating juncture in the dialogue, Arden acted as interlocutor for Nicole with the question of how she sees “geologically-inspired works of art,” including Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, as “engaging with the materiality of literary texts.” Nicole, in her response, connected geological form with the materials of textual production, observing that its “remarkable when you come upon stacked strata in the field and see rocks lined up like books on a shelf.” Importantly–and this accounts for one reason I find Nicole’s work as a sculptor and printmaker so fascinating–Nicole draws our attention so effectively to the way in which the earth itself comprises a geological field of signification to be made legible. Yet, like any text, it resists complete interpretation, offering breaches, lacunas, and other absences of meaning. “Volumes go missing,” Nicole reminds us. Excitingly, the series will be continued in May with a piece on the close reading of anatomical texts by Arden, NGSC Co-Chair, long time blog contributor, and Gothic studies specialist Laura Kremmel, as well as the ASU19C Colloquium member and specialist on romantic ideas of the undead Emily Zarka. So, look out for that.

Likewise, on the collaborative side of things, newly minted Ph.D. Candidate Kaitlin Gowan (also of the extraordinarily enterprising ASU19C contingent) wrote a fabulous and timely post on life after exams. There Kaitlin shares how she overcame the challenges of composing her dissertation prospectus. In doing so she made the vital point that, when faced with a daunting writing exercise, we so often do best to proceed by working ideas out out loud, with our colleagues. If, as Kaitlin reminds, our work depends on the passion we bring to it, and our colleagues prove crucial to reminding us of the enthusiastic group of scholars we’re part of as romanticists, the simple act of talking becomes a matter of tantamount importance for success in arriving at the point of being ABD.

In yet another innovative and inspiring post on the methods of literary analysis, Deven Parker’s January piece looked at Media Archaeology. There Deven nicely highlights processes of intellectual expansion in precisely the sort of seminar (in her case, “Media Archaeology” led by Lori Emerson) one might think at first unrelated to one’s earlier period-based work. Deven takes a point of departure from media archaeology’s imperative that we “expose structures of power embedded within the hardware of modern technology, revealing the ways in which media exert control over communication and provide the limits of what can be said and thought.” The result Deven extrapolates is an impetus to consider “texts from the inside out.” In turn, we are to question what books “tell us about the cultural conditions and constraints imposed by the media in which they were (and are) written, manufactured, and consumed.” It seems to me that the move to consider contemporary modes of production, and the theoretical modes of discourse they generate, so frequently proves critical for thinking about one’s own scholarship, even if it is primarily concerned with earlier periods. In addition, I would very much like to hear more from those of you reading the blog on what modes of contemporary media you enjoy thinking about, and the theoretical frameworks you utilize to do so.

Equal in brilliance for its bringing of the interdisciplinary to the fore of the blog, Renee Harris in a March post on “Use Value and Literary Work” zeroed in on how interests in romanticism and economics prove mutually illuminating. In a show of how the milestones in a graduate program lead one to the ideas that sustain important long-term work, Renee shared her justifications for her chosen comprehensive exam lists. At a key point, Renee contends that “The writers we study desire a lasting cultural influence. They seek to shape and correct, to play a significant role in cultural formation and the national story. I argue that this desire to influence and make a mark is a symptom of economic insecurity.” Indeed, it would seem that we need to understand to a much larger extent than we do the way in which such a bourgeois condition of pragmaticism informs the conditions of production with which we are concerned in the nineteenth century. I can’t wait to see how Renee will light the way to precisely this important frame of reference.

Last, on a similar front, blogger and interviewer extraordinaire Jennifer Leeds compiled words of wisdom from five scholars in our field on preparing for comprehensive exams. Perhaps the best of which comes from the medical humanities scholar Brandy Schillace, currently at Case Western University. Dr. Schillace made the salient point, which she was led to by her studies in theology, that “disciples ‘not worry’ about what they would say in advance. When the time came to speak, they would.” While I can only admit to my own experience in this regard, too often I feel as though I attempt to plan everything I say in advance, particularly with regard to my qualifying exams. This usually leads to unnecessary anxiety and less than fulfilling results. Hence, I find Dr. Schillace’s rejoinder a great one. We spend a good deal of time with ideas. Why wouldn’t we be heartened to know, and be confident that when we need them, the ideas will be there.

And with that I can sincerely say I look forward to another quarter of writing on the blog!

 

How To Do Archival Research (Report of the NGSC-sponsored professionalization roundtable from NASSR 2013)

If you happened to be at the NGSC-sponsored roundtable at the NASSR conference in Boston two weeks ago, you know that it was one of the best events we have organized so far!  Truly, it was probably the highlight of the whole conference for me, and that’s saying something.  Fun, Interesting, and amazingly useful, the panel brought together five incredibly accomplished (and let’s just say it: frickin’ cool) scholars in our field for a mini-course in archival research.   I’ll do my best in this post to translate my notes (along with Kirstyn’s, thanks, KL!) into an efficient reference for anyone preparing to spend quality time in some alluring repository  of old books, papers, and objects.  If you’re like me, then even if you don’t have a research trip in the works right now, you might just find yourself itching to plan one.  Anybody want to meet up at the British Library?

Special thanks again to our panelists Michelle Levy, Devoney Looser, Andrew Burkett, Dan White, and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson for sharing their insights.   I have taken the liberty of organizing this post according to topic (rather than strictly by speaker), but have noted broadly who covered what.  Now, here we go!

How to integrate archival research into your studies (Michelle Levy)

Before you embark upon archival research, take some time to approach it thoughtfully and deliberately.

  • Consider what types of research actually requires the use of archival materials—that is, stuff that has not been republished in other more readily-available formats, or that contains vital information in its original material makeup.  Book History and Material Studies projects require this, as do many kinds of academic side-projects such as critical editions, biographies, or edited collections of letters.  Though these types of publications will not qualify a person for tenure, they become very useful resources; you might ask an advisor if they have such a pet-project in the works that you could help with—or eventually, you could do one of your own. (Also, think about where/how you might publish such a project, including in digital formats—check out PMLA’s “Little-known Documents” as an example).
  • Be sure to build in TIME; archival research cannot be done at the last minute.  You need time to sift through materials before you find the gems that matter.  You need time to write applications for research fellowships, including the lead-time for letters of recommendation.  You need time to learn the research techniques that reveal the documents’ secrets (see next item).
  • Build research skills before you go. Take a course in book history or bibliography if you possibly can.  Use the Special Collections of your home institution to get a sense of how they work, how often they contain non-catalogued materials, and how vital it is that you form a good relationship with the librarians.
  • Take time to figure out WHERE you will need to go in order to look at the documents you need, and whether that institution provides any research fellowships.  Some large institutions in the US do (like the Huntington, the Pforzheimer, and the Harry Ransom Center); most institutions in the UK do not (in which case, you might apply for a fellowship from your own university or some other funding body).

How to apply for research fellowships (Devoney Looser — see full text of her very useful handout HERE).

  • Remember, the surest way to not get funding is to submit a shoddy application.  You are in competition with lots of other smart people.
  • Give your advisors plenty of lead-time to write you letters of recommendation (a month is polite).
  • Show that you have specifically researched the holdings of the institution you plan to visit.  Use their online catalogues and finding aids, talk to others who have researched there, and even consider calling and talking to the librarians and curators (as long as you’ll be asking them smart questions, and not ones you could have answered yourself if you had just looked at their website).
  • The Project Narrative is the most crucial part. Don’t let another critic’s voice take center stage.  Explain WHY your research is exciting and important.  It is not enough to “fill a gap”—you must explain WHY the gap needs to be filled. And never begin your narrative with a quote from someone else!
  • Remember that you’re writing to a committee that comes from several disciplines, not necessarily including Romanticism.  Be sure that an educated non-romanticist could understand the importance of your project.
  • Don’t give up if you don’t get the fellowship!  Seek feedback, improve your application, and keep trying.

Tips for planning your research trip, including some packing essentials (Michelle Levy et al)

  • When planning your research trip, travel off-season if you can; it will be cheaper and libraries will be less crowded, which means you will get your books faster and librarians will be more available to help you.
  • Learn the archive’s rules and procedures before you go, so you don’t waste valuable time when you’re there.  You can usually order your books in advance, and occasionally you have to do so.
  • Read as much as you can before you go, including electronic forms of your primary documents, so that you can focus your precious time on the info you can’t get otherwise.  Software like Adobe Professional is useful for taking notes on PDFs.
  • Use a number of resources to plan the trip.  Contact the archivists (with smart questions, of course); they are really helpful.
  •  ALWAYS get a letter of endorsement from your advisor, printed on university letterhead and signed in BLUE ink.  Some institutions will not allow you access to their archives without this. Also, be sure to check whether they have other requirements, such as more than one form of ID, or a passport, or proof of current address.
  • Every institution will have its own rules and restrictions on what you can bring into the archives, (be sure you understand their policies involving photography and reproduction)  but pack yourself a basic “research baggie”—it will probably include pencils, a ruler, some paper, a magnifying glass, your laptop, a camera, and a jacket or sweater—libraries are CHILLY!

How to get the most out of your time in the archive itself (Andrew Burkett and Dan White; check out the full text of Andrew Burkett’s talk HERE)

  • Have a plan, but be open to discovery!  Let the archive drive you, but have a clear sense of your research questions (start with the broadest one, which is “I want to learn everything about _____.”)
  • Expect to be overwhelmed completely by the avalanche of information you might uncover.
  • MAKE FRIENDS with the archivists and curators. They can help give you a roadmap through those materials and focus your search.  Some archivists will be very helpful, others markedly frosty; kill them all with kindness!  They hold a lot of power, and if they decide they like you, their input can radically impact your work.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy your time while searching through the materials. Talk to other people working there. These work sites are dynamic and alive and exciting.
  • Embrace the fellowship in your fellowship!  Think of time at the archive as professionalization through sociability.  Learn how to talk about your work in a way that excites other people who are not necessarily in your field.

How to manage the notes and pictures you gather (Dan White)

  • Approach your note-taking systematically; essentially what you’re doing is amassing a body of notes from which, at a later point, you are going to produce scholarship.  The more clearly and obviously you can organize and tag what you gather, the more you’ll thank yourself later.   You’ll likely develop a system that’s unique to you, but as you do, imagine how your future self will be using your notes.  You want your notes to help you create ideas for scholarship.
  • ALWAYS record full bibliographic information for every item you look at!!
  • Have a system of naming your electronic files; long names are useful and perfectly acceptable; include key info such as author surname, keywords from title, date, other keywords.
  • Include cross-references for yourself, as you think about linkages you’re finding.  Within the file of notes on a given item you can include items like  “See ‘full name of file’ and ‘full name of file.'”
  • In your file for each item, clearly differentiate your transcriptions from your meditations (perhaps with different-colored text?), but definitely include BOTH!  Your epiphanies will be easily forgotten in the deluge of information you gather, so cherish each fleeting thought and keep a running narrative for yourself.
  • Don’t forget that there are different kinds of notes; if an electronic copy of a given text is available, you can download it and (with proper software) take notes on the PDF.  i
  • On a shorter visit (one month or so), it’s probably best just to spend your time gathering as much info as you can.  If you have a longer research period, you’ll probably want to work in some more formal writing/processing sessions for drafting the chapters or articles you’re working on.  Keep in mind, though, that the research narrative you produce in your notes is part of that drafting process.

How to go about locating and working in private, lesser-known, and otherwise unconventional archives (Jill Heydt-Stevenson)

Occasionally you might find yourself searching for texts or objects that don’t end up in academic institutions.  (Professor Heydt-Stevenson spent her summer researching collections of Paul and Virginia memorabilia, everything from handkerchiefs to cuckoo clocks, things that have mostly ended up in the hands of private enthusiasts who have all sorts of different reasons for collecting, and house their collections in their homes).  So, how do you go about finding such repositories, and how can you prepare to use them?

  • Search for clues about these kinds of collections on the internet, and definitely ask anyone you can think of who might know about anything useful.  If you have friends locally, they can give you a spring board for people who won’t be on the internet.  When trying to set up a visit don’t be afraid to use the phone!  Keep in mind that some private collectors are older, and may hail from an era before email was so prevalent, or may live in the countryside with spotty internet access.
  • Be prepared for the personalness of the research, and of your interactions with the collectors and their space.  Keep in mind that you may be in someone’s home, going through their prized possessions, and your people skills will be very important.
  • Be prepared for a huge difference between what the private collector does, versus an institution.  What matters to them may not be what matters to you, and you must respect this.  There will likely be no catalog, and little recorded information or analysis for each object.   You will also likely not have a lot of time with the collection.  These are huge challenges for a scholar.
  •  Bring notepaper as well as a computer to take notes in this house. There may be no wifi.
  • Have a really good camera on you – not an iPhone camera. Take lots of photos!
  • Be sure to ask the curator and owner if they want to be cited.  Some do, and others feel intensely protective of their collections and do NOT want publicity.
  • Be prepared to see one thing, or 300 things, depending on the situation.
  • Be prepared to do a ton of socializing and talking, like a job interview.  The curators will likely be thrilled that someone is interested in their collections, and will want to know all about what you’re planning to say about them.  All this talking will take up some of your research time, but be gracious and keep in mind that  it will likely enable you to do more research with the collection in the future.

 

Happy researching, everyone!  And if you want more information, be sure to check out our collection of posts on Libraries & Archives.  (You can access this from the drop-down menu for “Categories” on the right side of the page).

 

Sharing Process, Sources, Product: Around My Talk on Grad Student Group Blogging

Just a couple weeks ago, I gave a talk at MLA13 on graduate student blogging in which I call for graduate students, like us and in our example, to blog more about what we do over the course of the years we spend training for our jobs and for publishing. Rather than just reblogging my talk, this post is an effort to share my process of writing this talk, since it was highly dialogic and a new process for me. Feedback from other bloggers was critical to my learning how different users read, write, and connect through communities of graduate students studying Romanticism and other topics in the Humanities and to thinking through two very different kinds of group blogging forums: our nassrgrads blog and HASTAC.

Here’s a link to the talk: “‘A Large Amount of Good Second-Class Work’: The Value of Graduate Students’ Contributions to Scholarly Group Blogs”

Twitter and Storify: While writing my talk, and especially during MLA, I Tweeted a bunch and was on the lookout for Tweets on topic that pointed to relevant scholarly discussions. I made a Storify of these tweets, which you can find here.

To get to the final version of this talk I needed a lot of feedback from nassrgrads.com bloggers — thank you very much for your email replies! I also sought feedback from HASTAC (another group blog forum I wrote about and that I participate in). To think things through, I blogged on HASTAC and through those blogs generated two sets of very useful conversations.

Blog 1: “Graduate Student Research Blogging” and its conversation (on HASTAC) led me to …

Blog 2: “How Do You Use HASTAC” and its conversation (again, on HASTAC’s platform). All I can say is: wow! It is incredibly satisfying and exciting to have real-time discussions with scholars, like Cathy Davidson, and to have those conversations inflect my work so directly and meaningfully. More, please!

Here is a loose compendium of the sources I consulted while writing this talk, pub’d in Google Docs. One source I just thought of that is not on the list, and that includes blogs as scholarship, is Debates in the Digital Humanities (ed. Matthew K. Gold, U of Minnesota P, 2012).

On the “shoulder” of the MLA talk project, I was simultaneously thinking a lot about how we can make our nassrgrads.com blog a better, more fruitful, rewarding, rich, fun, and useful collection of posts and conversations. I’m looking forward to working on these improvements as a group!

All of this is to share a process that was extremely nontraditional for me in terms of scholarship production. It was true for this paper that thinking editorially about our blog and group on nassrgrads, blogging questions and comments in multiple fora, Tweeting and making a Storify, researching in The Chronicle and other pubs that focus on the relationship between scholars, modes of scholarship, and the profession helped me recognized the lack of serial scholarship produced by graduate students (on the whole) and ways in which we can increase our value as working Humanists who produce great quantities of useful work over the course of our training. It was a highly dialogic writing process in which comments from people I only know through HASTAC or nassrgrads — by professional connection in an online research community — contributed to critically thinking through the issues and identifying what I wanted most to say. After all, Mark Sample was adamant that each speaker only had 6 minutes and 40 seconds at the podium. I sweated this one and a lot of discussing and reading went into those few minutes.

Now that most of it is collected here, in this blog post, I am turning to my first spring semester projects: dissertation fellowship applications, revisions for my entries in the Johns Hopkins Guide to New Media and Textuality, and revising a diss chapter into an essay-length piece.

What are you working on right now? Looking forward to hearing from you — tally-ho, Spring semester projects!

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Image of raw cookie dough: By Nick Ares (originally posted to Flickr as Cookie Dough) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

MLA Panels of Interest to Graduate Students

Right on the heels of Carmen Mathes’ suggestion to attend the Romantic Media Studies Panel, I will also point out that there are a number of graduate-student specific events at the convention to be aware of. I have copied this from the MLA website and pasted it below. I will be at MLA attending panels on Thursday afternoon, all day Friday, part of Saturday, and all day Sunday. If you will be there, as well, and would like to catch up email me and we’ll connect! (Kirstyn dot Leuner at gmail)

2013 MLA Convention Sessions of Interest to Graduate Student Members

A lounge where graduate students can meet for discussion or relaxation will be located in the Sheraton Boston (Exeter, 3rd floor).

The Job Information Service will operate a center at the Westin Copley Place (American Ballroom, 4th floor). The Association of Departments of English and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages will arrange times for experienced faculty members to offer one-on-one counseling to job seekers in the center.

The CSGSP encourages graduate student members attending the convention to comment on Twitter about sessions of interest to graduate students. Please use the hashtag #mla13 for all 2013 convention tweets and add tags such as #mlagrads and session numbers (e.g., #S394).

Officers and experienced editors who are members of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) will be available on 4 and 5 January from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Jamaica Pond, Sheraton, to provide informal information and private consultations about what to expect in journal submission, peer review, and publishing processes. Beginning scholars (graduate students and entry-level professors) are particularly welcome.

Sessions of particular interest to graduate students include the following:

Toward a Map of the International Conference on Romanticism 2012: “Catastrophes”

Precatastrophe:

“[The] most common catastrophe, the end of life, may have already happened without our knowing it”

–Brian McGrath (Clemson U)

Two weeks prior to “Catastrophes,” the International Conference on Romanticism’s 2012 session, a hurricane had formed and began moving through the Caribbean with an East Coast trajectory:

10/25/2012 2:33 AM EDT, Updated: 10/26/2012 5:05 PM EDT

“Could a Hurricane Sandy, winter storm hybrid worse than the “Perfect Storm” of 1991 slam the East Coast just in time to ruin both Halloween and Election Day?”

Huffington Post

A catastrophe does not start.  Its beginning is not a fixed point in time and space.  A catastrophic event develops, unfolds, and emerges.  While the catastrophe eventually becomes identifiable, its obscurity is not suddenly contained.  The causes and effects of a catastrophe are impossible to register entirely:

10/27/12 11:10 PM ET EDT

“‘We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,’” said Louis Uccellini…The rare hybrid storm that follows will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.”

Wayne Parry and Allen G. Breed, “Hurricane Sandy, Approaching Megastorm, Threatens East Coast

So how do we measure catastrophe?  Does the number of people involved determine an event’s ontological status?  Even when a catastrophe appears to impact a single person only, seemingly infinite multiplicities are required beforehand in order to arrive at the individual’s loss:

11/7/12 5:13 PM MST

Roger Whitson@rogerwhitson

Spilled my coffee in the airport. #dumb

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Catastrophe By the Numbers:

In Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: A Poem, Barbauld examines “a national loss that can only conceal the individuals who bear that loss themselves.”

—Erin Goss (Clemson U)

Catastrophes are events that can be experienced but only through limited means. Different representational systems, from language to infrared technology and from maps to numbers, supply the conditions for making manifest that which an individual human cannot readily “see.”

Ocean surface winds for Hurricane Sandy

This image shows ocean surface winds for Hurricane Sandy observed at 9:00 p.m. PDT Oct. 28 (12:00 a.m. EDT Oct. 29) (from NASA.gov).

With the aid of a representation, humans convert an event into something it is not, something containable, accountable, and meaningful:

ICR 2012:  175 attendees, 147 papers, 5 plenary speakers, 2 absentees due to weather.

Weather for Tempe, AZ: November 8-11, 2012

Average Temperature: 79/55.

Average Precipitation: 0.02

Containment:  Once a catastrophe is converted, by way of a numerical system for instance, it becomes a representational thing over which humans can exert control:

11/9/12 12:53 PM MST

Bruce Matsunaga@BruceMatsunaga

@ICR2012 Please ask the MU to lower the thermostat in the Gold room!! #icr2012

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Accountability:  When a catastrophe is quantified, that conversion provides another way to represent the expenditure for an event.  It allows us to ask who—or what—pays the cost:

Conference registration fee: $140

Discounted fee for students & independent scholars: $80

Banquet: $50 (with cash bar)

Hotel Fee at the Twin Palms: $331.96/$80 per evening plus tax

Plane Ticket: $365 round trip

CO2 Impact: 1,928 lbs.

Meaning:  For decades, literary criticism has dismissed the numbers.  But like words, numbers are representations and they express meaning.  But when either words or numbers are used to represent a catastrophe and those involved, words and numbers can equally exclude the individuals represented in favor of their own proliferation.

After Catastrophes

“But when a scrap survives, disciplines come ‘limping back.’”

—Elizabeth Effinger (U of Western Ontario)

“A ghostly language can grow back over the damage.”

—Tristram Wolff (UC Berkeley)

Because catastrophes lack clear beginnings as well as endpoints, they cannot be represented by lines.  Lines, by definition, require two endpoints.  When winds gather together they form a storm, and when they scatter they leave artifacts in their wake.  The manifold tendencies of these artifacts presuppose the catastrophe that initially altered their courses.  Rather than reach an endpoint, a catastrophe transforms:

11/07/12 11:16 PM ET EST

“A nor’easter blustered into New York and New Jersey on Wednesday with rain and wet snow…inflicting another round of misery on thousands of people still reeling from Superstorm Sandy’s blow more than a week ago…Under ordinary circumstances, a storm of this sort wouldn’t be a big deal, but large swaths of the landscape were still an open wound.”

—Colleen Long and Frank Eltman, Huffington Post

So will a map of catastrophe look significantly different from a conference’s?  An old storm is embedded in the winds of a new one much like a conference picks up the conversations from the last.  The drift of arguments change and new topics gain emphasis, and yet, our function as scholars to preserve texts demands that the old data limp back into the dialogue, pending an apocalypse.  Events like conferences are not entirely cut-off from one another despite being punctuated by seasons, locations, and all the infinitesimal bits for which we cannot account.  Perhaps on a map, neither conferences nor catastrophes are lines with endpoints, but waves.

Many thanks to ASU and the conference organizers, Mark Lussier and Ron Broglio.

Congratulations to the graduate student essay winners:

First Place: Rebecca Nesvet (U. of North Carolina Chapel Hill), “Patagonian Giants, Frankenstein’s Creature, and Contact Zone Catastrophe.”

Second Place: Tristram Wolff (U. of California Berkeley), “Etymology and Slow Catastrophe: Tooke to Coleridge to Wordsworth.”