NASSR-L: Reply to All?

A year or so ago, I joined the NASSR-L: a listserv for scholars working in the field of Romanticism. Here is how you can join, too. I joined because I was advised that it’s a great place to learn informally about who’s doing what in the field and what the hot topics are. I’m glad I joined! Sometimes the conversation turns on current political issues (like Arizona’s immigration laws and graduate student loans), and other times it addresses literary and historical issues specific to the Romantic period. It is a great resource, as well, for learning about upcoming conferences and opportunities in our field. But one relatively consistent feature of the NASSR-L, it seems to me, is that graduate students do a small percentage of the talking/typing. (Note: It would be interesting to do a thorough analysis of topics addressed and those who address them on this list.)

So here are my questions: what is the graduate student’s role regarding NASSR-L? Do we need a similar forum for graduate students only? The official list etiquette statement begins: “The NASSR-L is a professional discussion forum for students, teachers and researchers of Romantic literature and culture. It seeks to maintain an atmosphere of respect and restraint at all times.” Clearly, we are welcome here and encouraged to stay as long as we’re interested. But are we doing the list’s community a disservice by usually being silent observers/listeners? I’m still thinking about it.

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The NASSR-L email listserv has always fascinated and scared me a little bit. It fascinates me because those who write are often well-known major scholars in our field — you know, keynote speakers with several books under their belts that you have read, and reread, and think to yourself: how did they do this? They sometimes pose questions to the list that give readers a glimmer of what they’re researching, or reply to answer their colleagues’ research questions that only someone who has been reading the field for 20 years could answer. And the NASSR-L scares me because these are the same people who also read questions posed to the list as well as the responses, and who also probably sit on hiring committees. Intimidating, no? It certainly makes those of us who are junior think twice before clicking “reply-to-all.”

For example: on January 26, at 6:46am, Laura Mandell asked the NASSR list, which had been talking about Barbauld and Keats:

While we are on the subject of Barbauld, I read somewhere that Henry Crabbe Robinson commented that he was cured of melancholy by reading Barbauld’s essay “Inconsistency in our Expectations.”  I cannot find that source: does anyone know where the record of HCR’s comment can be found?

Thanks for any information.

Best, Laura Mandell

And by 8:03am, not two hours later, Stephen Behrendt replied:

Crabb Robinson’s comment is in his Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence. Vol 2, p. 210. My edition is an old Houghton-Mifflin one from 1898, bound as 2 vols in one but separately paginated by volume.

In case you have a different edition, you’ll find the remark in a letter from Robinson to Benecke dated 27 April 1835.

Let me know if you need a scan of the page, OK?


[Editor’s note: quoted with permission from both authors.]

I thought this exchange was insightful for several reasons. First, Mandell’s question was an honest source question about an idea that she is working on; the kind of source question that we can all relate to (i.e., I read this somewhere, but I can’t remember where). So to mine the reading of all of her NASSR colleagues (including us!), she asked the list community for help. In a flash, she received a response from another distinguished Romanticist that not only pointed to the source, but described his copy and generously offered to scan the page for her.

Not only did this exchange–just one example of the many fruitful exchanges on this list–provide a useful answer to a working research question, but it underscores the benefits of the NASSR-L email listserv and the ideal of collegial communication in our field. By asking the NASSR list, Mandell knew that everyone would receive the question and have the opportunity to help answer it. Also, those who happen to be working on similar topics (Henry Crabbe, Barbauld, melancholy, etc.) would gain some useful information when the answer was broadcast to the list. Likewise, Behrendt offered the citation to the list by not directly emailing his reply to Mandell’s individual address. The dialogue reminds me of a rich, more detailed Twitter feed. I think this is the kind of conversation that we should aspire to: unafraid to ask each other for help, to ask questions about what we’re thinking about or researching, and interested in providing resources to others where we can.

I will be the first to admit that I have never sent a question or a response to NASSR-L. I worry that my questions or answers would be perceived as pedestrian and that somehow that would permanently brand me in our tightly-knit field in which I someday hope to score a job (optimism!). Furthermore, I still have a lot of graduate-level or, let me rephrase, pre-professional questions that might be softballs for scholars like Mandell and Behrendt who know the field so well.

To me, the tenor of NASSR-L contributions over the past year suggests that it is not the best place for graduate-level Romanticists’ questions or comments, though they do appear on occasion and sometimes are quite good and warmly received. However, I have also seen responders verge on impolite when responding to a less-than-great query. I perceive the listserv as a place I *might* ask a question or submit a response, if I had edited my question and/or triple-checked my response first (and by then, someone else will likely scoop you). Perhaps the listserv is one kind of measure for our growing confidence and experience in the field: to submit or not to submit to the list. (It’s nice to know that to be on the safe side, we can always just ask our advisors.)

In the end, I return to the value of academic conversations that extend beyond one’s own department — a large and intellectually active academic crowd we have access to electronically whether via listserv or Twitter feed. Conferences are too expensive and infrequent to accomplish this. We just have to be bold enough to reply-to-all, and in my opinion, talk to our colleagues as peers without the fear of inadvertently giving away a paper idea or hurting our chances of getting hired. But for graduate students (us), this may mean needing our own forum.

What do you think? Here are some questions to discuss:

  • Is there a need for a graduate-student-only NASSR listserv? (I’m the webmaster … we could have one!) We could also turn to Twitter. I post updates for the NGSC website under #NGSC, and we could broaden our discussion here.
  • Have you posted to NASSR-L as a graduate student? If so, what was your experience?
  • If you haven’t posted, why not?
  • If you subscribe, how often do you read the messages and responses on the list?
  • What kinds of messages/responses do you find most interesting?

One thought on “NASSR-L: Reply to All?”

  1. I think a graduate-student only NASSR listsev is a fantastic idea! I am a graduate student in the fist years of my coursework and would love to belong to a virtual community of budding Romanticists who share similar concerns/questions. I don’t subscribe to the NASSR listserv (I subscribe to my university’s Romanticist listserv), but if I did, I would definitely feel intimidated by asking a question/commenting. Thanks for your engaging post!

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