Introduction to the Arizona State University 19th Century Colloquium and Our Structure


Let me first say that it is an honor to be able to web-log along with other members of the caucus this year. My name is Kent Linthicum, and I am one of the Graduate Coordinators of the Arizona State University 19th Century Colloquium. The ASU 19th Century Colloquium is a group for graduate students to discuss their own work and consider other important developments in the field of literature. Throughout the course of the year our colloquium hopes to further provide voices for the NSGC blogs as we will be having various members of the colloquium contributing entries. My particular interests are literature, science, and the environment in the 19th-century. My desire in this first post is to describe the process by which our colloquium was created and hopefully provide any tips for folks who might want them.

So, returning to 2011, when I arrived at Arizona State I was pretty excited, minus the heat.

As a digression, I had experienced culture shock before, but not temperature shock. That first summer in the Valley of the Sun was quite intense. This being said, subsequent summers have been fine and even enjoyable, one just has to acclimate. If it gets to 50 degrees Fahrenheit though, now I have to get out the jacket, hat, scarf, etc…I know my more cold weather colleagues will snicker lightly, but come talk to me when you can walk around in pants when it is 105 degrees and think to yourself ‘this is nice’.

Nevertheless, that first summer the new graduate students had a month long Teaching Assistant training, which was quite comprehensive. Eventually, the semester began and the first few classes I had were exciting, covering research and theories of teaching. And even my first batch of freshmen were intriguing as I tried to guide them through the writing process. But something was missing, and I realized it in my Old English class. Every other Thursday, in Old English, the medievalists would always be talking about their colloquium which occurred on Friday. They would talk about whose paper they were going to read and where they were going to get dinner afterwards. I was envious, because I did not get to meet with my colleagues except for our classes.

I talked with my peers about forming a colloquium, that we might meet and talk about each others’ work. It took a bit of organizing, but by the next year we had our first few dates set. Starting out, we met once monthly on Fridays, where we would meet to discuss one peer’s writing: either a seminar paper, conference presentation, section of a thesis. I would ask for volunteers who wanted to have their work reviewed, and then would send it out to our e-mail list the week before the meeting. Then on the third Friday we met for an hour to talk about the paper.

The very first peer review involved my paper on Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and ‘slow violence’ and Kaitlin’s paper on Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau. The review was a success, helping make the ideas contained in the papers that much more clear and persuasive. So when Kaitlin and I presented these papers at conferences they were well received. And the colloquium continued smoothly: I would e-mail everyone once a month, reminding them of the meeting, Kaitlin secured a room for us, and we would meet. At a very basic level that was all the logistical work that was required, but of course there is more than just that.

If there was and is one item that I want to stress as essential to our success it is enthusiasm: our colloquium lives through our own energy. Were I able, I would tell everyone how to grow enthusiasm, but unfortunately I cannot, which is frustrating. For us, it seems that our willingness to commit to peer-reviewing and to meeting is key to our success. So, we have made it an aspect of community for 19th scholars at ASU.

This year we have moved to bi-monthly meetings, with a somewhat expanded scope (after a contingent of us met over summer too). Here is a list of what we are currently doing:
  • Peer-review: this is the core of our work together and remains so today. Half of our meetings are dedicated to discussing each other’s work. Roughly we read and comment on a colloquium member’s work and then talk about it in the meeting. We are very flexible about what we read: for-class essays, conference papers, portfolio papers, articles to be published, or dissertation chapters, always with a focus on professionalization.
  • Article discussions: Also a core element to our work, we discuss either cutting edge or foundational work in the field of 19th century literature, like M.H. Abrams or recent articles on New/Neo Formalism. What we do is ask one person to lead our discussion and then we spend the meeting discussing the text and placing it in context with our work and the field.
  • Mock Examinations: This is a new addition for us this semester. To help prepare each other for our comprehensive examinations (or Oral examination or Field examination) we hold a mock version of it before hand. The student sends us their reading list(s) and the colloquium generates questions. Although individually we might not have all read the works (because of varied specializations of interest within the field) collectively we cover the lists fairly well. Then we sit down with the student who will be examined and we ask them questions, and then afterwards give them feedback. Our November post will go into more detail about this process!
  • Pedagogy Workshops: Lastly, we ask one of the faculty members to visit us and cover an aspect of teaching in the literature classroom, like syllabus design or classroom management, etc. We try to plan this for the end of the semester to make it a bit easier on everyone.

So, in a blog-shell, that is the system and mechanics of our colloquium. More interestingly, in the coming months we will have various voices from the colloquium writing entries to talk about themselves, their work, or other items. I hope that this insight has been valuable. We are looking forward to an excellent set of discussions on the blog and are excited to be a part of the conversation!