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Guest Post: Disability and Visibility at the Academic Conference

By Caitlin Rose Myers

We would all agree that conferences are an essential part of the job of academic.  However, I’ve recently discovered firsthand that fulfilling this part of our job is extremely difficult for those scholars and graduate students who have disabilities, in ways that are often overlooked – not out of malice, but out of a lack of understanding or foresight.  On a recent trip to two conferences in the span of two weeks, I encountered many of the obstacles I’m referring to while using my wheelchair to try to navigate the conference atmosphere.  I’d like to share these obstacles in the hope of promoting more foresight and more activism for the rights of disabled conference attendees.  Since my disability is largely related to mobility, that is my focus here, although I hope that more conversation can occur about sensitivity and accessibility for all disabled scholars.  As a part of our job, we shouldn’t struggle as much as we do to engage with these events, and I hope to encourage those who notice some of these issues at conferences you attend to speak to organizers about promoting accessibility.

Continue reading Guest Post: Disability and Visibility at the Academic Conference

“Horror in Medicine” – a Response

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Catherine Belling (associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine), an event launching the “Imagining Health Project” series by the IHR Medical Humanities Initiative at ASU. This series is meant to integrate art and the humanities with medicine driven by the philosophy “health is a basic human need” that encapsulates a variety of physical and mental components.

Belling’s talk, entitled “Imagining Disease–Horror and Health in Medicine,” was hosted by the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. While I have personally been to lectures taking place in art museums, cafes, and libraries, attending a humanities-driven event at a working medical treatment and research facility was definitely a novelty.  Tackling the themes of uncertainty and fear at the center of medical care, Belling’s lecture focused on what she termed “a poetics of medicine” in which the humanities offers ways to approach healthcare in all of its facets. She named three terms implicit in this discussion: imagining (or imagination), disease, and horror. I found her definitions and conclusions regarding imagining and horror to be the most compelling, and I will briefly summarize her key points below while also noting my own reactions to the material, posing questions I still need answered (perhaps you dear reader, can help!). Continue reading “Horror in Medicine” – a Response

“I have a new leaf to turn over:” A Romanticist’s Resolutions for 2014

I think we can all agree that Keats’s Endymion (1818) was a critical and commercial failure. As Renee discusses in her post, Tory reviewers lambasted the poem because of Keats’s affiliation with outspoken radical Leigh Hunt. Although the poem’s most notorious critic, John Gibson Lockhart, notes its metrical deviations from the traditional heroic couplet form, he spends more time attacking Keats personally: “He is only a boy of pretty abilities, which he has done every thing in his power to spoil.” It’s no wonder, then, that Keats’s letters written in the months that followed show a recurring preoccupation with self-improvement, or “turning over a new leaf.” In a short letter to Richard Woodhouse (friend and editor) dated December 18, 1818, he writes “Look here, Woodhouse – I have a new leaf to turn over: I must work; I must read; I must write.” He’d repeat the phrase again that April in a letter to his sister, complaining that he had “written nothing and almost read nothing – but I must turn over a new leaf.”

Due to my unfortunate tendency to self-identify with whomever I’m reading (“OMG, Keats, I know EXACTLY what it’s like to have your work rejected and then mooch off your friends because you have no money. WE ARE THE SAME PERSON.”), Keats’s desire to “turn over a new leaf” resonates as I prepare for a new semester of graduate school in the new year. While our situations are slightly different – constructive criticism of a seminar paper not quite as devastating as the complete and utter failure of a published book  – his mantra for self-improvement sounds eerily like that of a graduate student: “I must work; I must read; I must write.” In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, and hopefully transforming that Endymion-esque seminar paper into a Lamia, I present to you my academic resolutions for 2014. I should note that many of these will be obvious to the more seasoned scholars among you, but for all of you newer grads out there, I hope you’ll find my mistakes instructive.

Resolution #1: I will develop arguments from texts instead of making texts conform to my arguments. 

This one seems easy in theory, but it’s something I’ve been struggling with throughout the semester. I’ll read one text – Endymion, let’s say – and then a bunch of criticism, and its reviews, letters, etc. Then, I’ll develop an idea about how Keats’s later poems revisit the same genre and politics as Endymion, but ultimately rewrite them. Except, I’ll form this connection even before I’ve read the later poems, just because it sounds so smart and will make such a good paper. Then, I’ll set about writing the paper and finally get around to reading Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems (1820), and only then will I realize that the texts interact in completely different ways than I had originally thought. Of course, there’s not enough time to completely rewrite my paper, so I stick with the argument, praying that the reader doesn’t realize I made this crucial error.

So, simply put, I resolve to stop doing this faulty method of research. I’m going to let myself be confused by texts, and stop trying to develop beautiful, complex arguments before I’ve had time to fully read and think about them. If a brilliant idea pops into my head before I’ve done this, I’ll write it down, set it aside, and consider it later. As a wise professor once told me, “Always start with close reading. If you leave it till the end, it will always most certainly change your argument.”

Resolution #2: I will accept that I am, first and foremost, a student.

A wise man (Michael Gamer) once told a group of English majors, “graduate students are full of themselves.” I hate to say it, but I’m living proof of this. I started graduate school last August under the impression that I was a Romanticist. In my undergrad days I was merely an “aspiring Romanticist,” but starting a Ph.D. program gave me the right to crown myself with the full title. Once I was accepted, I thought that I had made the transition from student to scholar, and deceived myself into believing that I knew more about my field than I actually do. Thankfully, the enormous ego that Michael prophesied was soon deflated when I realized a few weeks into class that, in fact, I know very, very little about the period in which I claim to specialize. Of course, this realization was accompanied was a decreased sense of self-worth, doubt about whether I was in the right line of work, and a frantic conversation with my advisor in which I dramatically exclaimed, “I KNOW NOTHING!” “That’s ok,” he assured me, “you’re a student, and you’re not supposed to. Frankly, you’d be surprised how many people in the field don’t know much either.” So, for 2014, I resolve to remind myself that I’m not a scholar yet; I’m a student. I will accept the limits of my knowledge while doing my best to expand them.

Resolution #3: I will overcome writing anxiety.

This problem plagues many of us, and it’s one of my biggest areas for improvement in the new year. Sometimes, the sheer size of what I need to write, the nearness of the deadline, and difficulty of the subject matter create a Kafka-esque paralysis in which no writing is accomplished. I can tell I’m experiencing this when I go to extra lengths to avoid starting a paper, whether it’s extra research, extensive outlining, or a meticulously organized Spotify playlist entitled “Writing.” As many of us know, talking about writing and thinking about writing is not actually writing. The only way to overcome this problem is simply to write more. At the advice of many of my peers, I plan to write everyday, especially while I conduct research. There were simply too many times this year when I was tempted to end my seminar papers in the way that Milton ended “The Passion” (1620): “This Subject the Author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished.” I’m pretty sure only Milton could pull off that one.

Resolution #3.5: I will write my blog posts on time. 

This probably should’ve been number one. Thank you, Jake and fellow NASSR grads, for your patience.

Happy 2014!



Legitimacy and the Graduate Student

We’ve all heard it:  “I don’t feel like I belong here”—the clarion call of English graduate students and the hyper-obsession of meta-conversations within Literature departments at the highest level.  What is this obsession, and who really does belong in graduate programs or the academy, if not those who are there already?  This problem has been my preoccupation for some time now, so much so that it has crept into my dissertation, in an attempt to unravel the problems of legitimacy, sovereignty, authorship, etc. embedded in Romanticism and Romantic studies.

Trying to tackle these problems as a total framework, or as a problem even at the level of pedagogy, has been met with lots of resistance.  My upcoming Fall course on “Banned Books and Novel Ideas” will look at illegitimate textual problems in Ossian’s Tales of Fingal, Byron’s issues with piracy, the thorny controversies in Shakespeare and Defoe, as well as the whole regime of intellectual property surrounding Scott and Coleridge.  To inaugurate this course, I began my description with the famous quote from Foucault’s famous essay which he “borrowed” from Beckett: “What matters who’s speaking?”  Quite a moment of reflexivity, where Foucault not only questions the regime of authorship, but also uses a phrase that is syntactically tangled and, apparently, illegitimate.  I say this because my proposal, after explanation and several revisions, was greeted with disapproval from the legitimizing force of the English department heads; Beckett and Foucault have non-standard English and tangled syntax, it was said—students will be confused and find the course doesn’t have authority!  Hmmm….  I have my own responses to this line of argument, but I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the subject.  That is, how does one negotiate teaching texts that are non-standard, taboo, illegitimate etc. while still telling them that plagiarism is naughty-naughty and they must write in standard, syntactically clear English?  One easy explanation is making the distinction between discursive and non-discursive texts but, in keeping with truth-telling, even that distinction breaks down with enough interrogation.

Within this same matrix of problems, I have often asked the question of how one can really integrate radical politics into a classroom space?  How can one develop a quasi-democratic, anarchic pedagogy when all available models have some basis in logics of sovereignty and authority, delegitimizing certain ways of learning and production of scholarship?  Your thoughts are very much appreciated, particularly in relation to your experiences of teaching problematic Romantic texts.

Ossian receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes

Reading Suggestions for Grad Seminar

New Graduate Course Help entry on Romantic Circles Pedagogy Blog. Dr. Katherine Harris asked for our help recommending reading for her graduate seminar. Respond on her blog post at http://www.rc.umd.edu/pedagogies/pedagogies_blog/?p=264.

This Fall, I’m teaching a graduate course in Romanticism. The last time I offered a graduate course(2 years ago on William Wordsworth), it was cancelled for low enrollment (only 7 signed up; I needed at least 10). This means that an entire generation of our MA graduate students haven’t had any Romantic-era literature for their comprehensive exams. (The last class I taught in the graduate program was in 2008 and that was on Madness & Romanticism, based on an article I wrote for an Alexander Street Press database.) Most of the time, I hear them say that they had a Romantic-era survey in undergrad and don’t need a grad course in Blake, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, or Coleridge to pass the exams. Grad courses specifically do not cater to the comprehensive exams, but it’s been difficult erasing this culture from our program.  They will take a Victorian course and read all of Middlemarch and 3 or 4 Dickens novels, but Romanticism falls flat. For the Fall, I have no shame; I will resort to bribery and pop culture-isms to attract students to this course.

Yes, dear Teaching Romanticism Collection, I am asking for your help. I want to teach a course on the development of aesthetics in Romantic-era literature — based on the summer NEH seminar with Stephen Behrendt. The readings will be based on those from the seminar plus any travel diaries, travelogues, ships’ manifestos, letters that involve this idea of travel. The title:

Eat, Look, Go”: Romanticism, Aestheticism, and the Sensualism of Travel

All of the usual suspects appear in the primary reading (MWS, PBS, STC, WW, DW, MW) but who else? Any suggestions? Perhaps we could create a map of their travel (staying with the digital theme that I typically incorporate). Or maybe I should kick it old school and just have them read, interact with the literature.  I’m not quite sure how to get eating in there, too.

Any suggestions?



General Notes on the Proceedings of the Vancouver 2010 Meeting

Notes on the Proceedings of the NGSC Caucus Meeting
August 21, 2010 – Vancouver, BC

A special “thank you” to all who attended our inaugural NGSC meeting at the NASSR conference in Vancouver last weekend! The general interest and enthusiasm expressed by those present bodes well for the future or this organization.

With many helpful suggestions from attendees, we accomplished the primary task of the meeting: to review, amend, and ratify NGSC bylaws. These bylaws will soon be posted on the NGSC blog and website in their updated form, and will remain in effect for the coming year.  Amendments may be proposed via email for consideration at next year’s caucus meeting.

We also announced the need to fill several positions on the NGSC Executive committee (visit this blog post for details).  Those interested should submit a CV and Statement of Purpose addressed to our Faculty Advisors (Jill Heydt-Stevenson and Deidre Lynch) by Friday September 10th, 2010. Submit your application materials to nassgrad@colorado.edu.

Finally, the meeting witnessed a grand unveiling of the NGSC website. This will eventually replace the blog, and will be linked to the main NASSR page.  For now, it remains hidden from search engines and will undergo some further construction before going completely live. Those interested in viewing the website and making suggestions for items to include on it should visit the blog for details.

In addition to the caucus meeting, The NGSC hosted a special session at the NASSR Conference titled “’What is now proved was once only imagin’d’: or, What Every Graduate Student Should Know About Journal Publication.”  Featuring panelists from the editorial boards of several prominent journals, the session explored graduate students’ most frequently asked questions about publishing. A distillation of notes from the panel will be posted on the NGSC blog.

Thank you again for your enthusiasm, energy, input and support! As always, we invite your suggestions on all subjects related to the NGSC, by email, blog comment, or Facebook Group. With your help, we look forward to a productive and dynamic new year of building and improving the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus.

Kelli Towers Jasper, Secretary
and the NGSC Executive Committee
August 25th, 2010

Suggestion Box

Right now, while we are discussing the future of the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus (NGSC), is the perfect time for you to voice your opinions about what the NGSC can and should do for you. Do you have suggestions for by-laws? Is there some goal that the caucus should work toward? Some useful function it might serve? Please respond with any suggestions or comments that you have — thank you!