“Tracing the Vévé, Healing the Nation: Exploring Bakongo Cosmologies in Haitian Vodou”|| Mariah A-K Bender

MAPH Student, University of Chicago

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 — Postponed

This paper explores the connections between Bakongo cosmologies on the role, function, and manifestation of the spirit in the Petwo rites of Haitian Vodou. I argue that that the Bakongo conceptuality of the spirit is the realization of the human experience of enslaved Africans in Haiti. As such, the spirit is liberator, life-giving, life-sustaining. Finally, the spirit and the meaning of spirit has historically traveled with the African people regardless of nationality, and is best demonstrated through the art of Vodouisants and even African-Americans. Ultimately, the ability for the conceptualization of spirit, ancestor, and connection to one’s African identity to endure historic oppression and imperialism is proof that the African spirit lives as the African people live.

“Camping Empire: Masculinity, Melophilia, and the Castrato Voice” || Devon Borowski

PhD Candidate, Music, University of Chicago

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

For eighteenth-century Britons, the singing voice was a source of erotic fixation and moral controversy, as well as a critical index of the body. As imperial focus shifted eastward, the much-desired and long-despised castrato overlapped with the vogue for the arch sensibilities of the Gothic and the Orientalist, opening new possibilities for aural engagement with empire. This chapter positions Camp as an alternative mode of aurality emerging in this moment. The argument centers around absentee planter William Beckford and the performance of a cantata occasioned by his twenty-first birthday. Il tributo (1781) urged the effeminate Beckford to embrace the masculine virtues of restraint, magnanimity, and patriotism, though its stark conceit was mediated by the decadent voices of the famed castrati Pacchierotti and Tenducci. Carnal materials of song obscured words, producing a conflicting representation of English manhood amid a foreign and eroticized soundscape that Camped imperial masculinity. Heard in context, the scene frames an ideal of British masculinity in the late eighteenth century through the relationship between voice and ear. Moreover, it suggests that the sounding voice takes on a power beyond the metaphor of political representation to construct and position bodies and empires.

“‘Floating Ground’: Imperial Nationality and Armadale‘s Sensation Plot” || Tyler Talbott

PhD Candidate, English, Northwestern University

Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Published by Wilkie Collins across two years that witnessed John Eyre’s violent suppression of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica and the accelerating movement around democratic reform in England, Armadale’s hemisphere-hopping plot dramatizes the inseparability of colonial and metropolitan national cultures. Further, through expanding the usual perimeters of the national novel, moving from a focus on the nation’s regions to that of the empire’s, Armadale significantly intervenes in contemporary discourses about the meaning of imperial nationalism. While it initially employs moments of the uncanny or sensational that seem to valorize a homogenous ideal of the nation, even as they destabilize it, this chapter argues that it ultimately exploits the resources of its sensation plot to reconstruct a new future of the Victorian imperial nation-state. And it does so at a pivotal moment in which new ideas about national community and politics emerged alongside the problems and politics of an expanding, and changing, global empire.

an introduction to COVE (Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education)|| Dino Felluga

November 10, 2021 (at 5pm on Zoom)

Dino Felluga, a founder, will join us for this special session geared towards UChicago faculty and graduate students. COVE enables the formation of a digital anthology of texts that are fully annotatable and a set of tools to enhance the understanding of assigned texts. We will introduce attendees to its features, provide a short account of how it has and can be used in a classroom setting and then answer any questions you might have about its features.
Although the holdings at COVE are currently 19th-century dominant, there is also a considerable drama list and an ongoing grant to digitize BIPOC texts, some of which are from the History of Black Writing affiliated with UChicago. Each week, several new texts are added. With a few months’ leeway, one can request a text for digitization that has not yet been uploaded to COVE. Many UChicago faculty and graduate students may find this site helpful to their future teaching. 

“Hale Leka: Networks of Letters in Hawai’i” || Samantha Maza

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago

Friday, October 29, 2021

*this session was co-hosted by The Native American and Indigenous Studies Working Group at the Newberry Library & Northwestern University

Kānaka Maoli, or native Hawaiians, adopted foreign technologies of written communication into ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, or the Hawaiian language. The Kingdom of Hawai’i enveloped this technology in pre-existing governmental procedures, as exemplified by how infrastructure andplace names have remained continuous through millennia. The Hale Leka (Post Office) facilitated communication in a series of structures (stamps, routes, addresses, and letters). These structures were then enfolded into the following government, a coup d’état of foreign businessmen in 1893. Despite legislation forbidding the teaching of ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i in schools, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina I ka Pono”, or as the state motto loosely translates, “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”. The labor of Kānaka Maoli and allies continues to this day in the infrastructure created by the Hawaiian government. My scope is focused on the post office and postal paraphernalia (stamps, presses, envelopes) in Hawai’i between the years 1850-1959, which spans the postal system in the Kingdom, Republic, and Territory of Hawai’i. Through analyzing the key role of the post office in daily life, my research argues that indigenous knowledge and labor was, and continues to be, represented in the core infrastructure in Hawai’i.


“Extinction of the Heart: Victorian Feminism and the Rise of Eugenic Erotonormativity” || Lee Jasperse

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Rosenwald Hall 405
In mid-19th century England, marriage appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The 1851 census revealed 30% of women would never marry, threatening the credibility of a bourgeois vision of marriage—a domestic retreat from the cold world of alienated labor. This chapter examines the single, “unsexed,” “dulled and spiritless epicene automaton” that was the Odd Woman, the cultural figure that absorbed anxieties about the collapse of the family, heterosexuality, and ultimately the English race elicited by mass “celibacy.” Tracing the Odd Woman’s cultural circulation, the chapter discusses her role in the official foundation of English eugenics in the writings of William Greg and Karl Pearson, and in the intimately connected ‘New Woman’ fiction of Olive Schreiner, George Egerton, and Emma Frances Brooke. I examine the role of the immensely popular New Woman fiction in promulgating eugenic fantasies that made erotic impulse compulsory to whiteness, even as they advocated for white women’s erotic liberation.  Acknowledging that desublimated eroticism does not inherently constitute a liquidation of social hierarchies, but early on in its social life as a bodily capacity, in fact coalesced with the rise of formal eugenics, I hope to build on the work of scholars like Sharon Patricia Holland to attend to the social losses of eroticism’s compulsoriness.

man of the future.png


“Troubling Kinship: Imperial Citizenship, Morant Bay, and Eliot’s England” || Rebeca Velasquez

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
While George Eliot was writing her novel of English reform, Felix Holt: The Radical (1866), she consulted the legal theorist Frederic Harrison on the intricacies of English law. This paper begins by observing a historical coincidence: at the same time that Harrison was consulting with Eliot, he was also writing letters to the Daily News protesting Governor Eyre’s illegal use of martial law in the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica, later published as the pamphlet Martial Law: Six Letters to the ‘Daily News’ (1867). This paper brings together Eliot’s novel with Harrison’s letters to show how the political discourse of English reform and the controversy of the Jamaican affair were cut from the same cloth: both were sites for rethinking the legal parameters of political power. Harrison, a radical and known advocate of the franchise, wrote these letters with two purposes in mind: to condemn Eyre’s abuse of the legal system and to explain how this abuse posed a threat to England’s civil liberties during the crucial moment of the introduction of the Second Reform Bill. I turn to Eliot’s Felix Holt to help us understand why Harrison sees colonial insurrection as analogous to the domestic affair of the disenfranchised working class. The novel ambiguously aligns the English working class with colonized racial groups in their struggle for political rights. In its conflation of the English working class with colonized subjects, Felix Holt uses metaphors of racial difference to articulate the slow, educational agenda that Eliot believed should come before the extension of the franchise. What emerges in both texts, I argue, is an unsettling of the concept of the isolated British nation in their meditations on how colonial conflict gave coherence to the internal legal formations of the reform era.

“Simulating Modernity: Nineteenth-Century Science Fiction and the World’s Fairs” || Anastasia Klimchynskaya

Postdoctoral Fellow, SIFK, University of Chicago  

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Fiction has been understood to be a kind of virtual reality (Saler), as well as a “flight simulator” that prepares individuals for life experiences (Oatley, Gottschall). Similarly, sociologists have understood the World’s Fairs as immersive spaces for individuals to practice the social behaviors of modernity (Bennett). However, I argue that both science fiction and the World’s Fairs serve a much more specific function: preparing individuals to exist within technological modernity by immersing them in constructed futuristic worlds, acclimating them to new technologies, and allowing them to practice understanding and parsing technical and scientific information. Focusing on Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages and contemporaneous World’s Fairs, I consequently argue for reading the virtual spaces of science fiction and the physical spaces of these Fairs as functionally equivalent collective “training grounds.”

“Diction” || Alexis Chema

Assistant Professor, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

This essay is in preparation for The Cambridge Companion to the Poem, a volume dedicated to investigating the conceptual distinction between poetry in general and the individual poem in particular. Broadly speaking, the book examines the poem from three angles: the idea of the poem, the workings of the poem, and the poem’s social and cultural contexts. This essay on the topic of diction is to be part of the collection’s second section, dealing with various technical or formal aspects: image, style, voice, rhythm, etc. It begins with the premise that, like style, diction is a concept ordinarily discussed in relation to poets and movements, rather than single poems. Critics will thus analyze what Derek Walcott’s composite vocabulary says about his attitudes to colonialism, or how Thomas Gray’s use of a vocabulary specific to poetry, of a properly “poetic diction,” separates his work from other modes of discourse, especially those of the working classes. Yet single poems are often celebrated for incorporating a vocabulary uncharacteristic of the poet or movement. Canvassing such issues, this essay examines the tension between conventionality and singularity of diction from the perspective of two limit cases, the poem that creates its own idiosyncratic poetic vernacular out of, in part, genre-specific diction (using the example of Byron’s Don Juan), and the poem that produces strikingly singular effects out of an entirely formulaic hyperlyrical diction (using the example of Catherine Fanshawe’s riddle, known in the nineteenth century as “Lord Byron’s Enigma”).

“Bringing Literature to Life: Literary Performance in the Post-Civil War American Midwest” || Fiona Maxwell

PhD Candidate in History, University of Chicago

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

This paper explores the ubiquitous practice of literary performance in the post-Civil War American Midwest. Using Evanston, Illinois and its schools as a case study, I uncover the ways in which students, faculty, and residents mobilized literary and oral culture to create a vibrant community of readers and speakers. Evanston was a very Protestant, very “temperate,” and very talkative town with a zest for literary performance and female education–and a deep moral suspicion of the commercial theater. Evanstonians embraced an alternative form of participatory drama centered on literature and game play. Robert Cumnock, a renowned Scottish-born elocution instructor and dramatic reader, developed a nontheatrical approach to “dramatic expression,” and his women students and graduates established a professional network of performers and educators. Originally my second-year seminar paper, I intend for this essay to feed into the first chapter of my dissertation. My larger project asks why Chicago settlement house workers identified participatory arts activities as solutions to urban problems. Settlement volunteers drew on their childhood and educational experiences with dramatic reading, oratory, and parlor drama to craft programs for urban young people. Exchanges between settlement workers and participants produced a new form of “process-oriented” drama that was eventually codified and embraced by universities, public schools, nonprofits, and professional theater companies. Nineteenth-century women and men believed that literature should be activated and shared–a belief they in turn brought to schools, settlement houses, and performance venues across the country. Through their work, the world of participatory literary performance survives as a foundation for a variety of dramatic pursuits.

“Liberty, Equality, Disparity: The Paradoxical Politics of French Revolutionary Clothing Rhetoric” || Marissa Croft

PhD Candidate, Rhetoric & Public Culture, Northwestern University
Wednesday, November 18, 2021
As the contemporary pandemic polemic over mask mandates has shown, rhetoric about clothing often has the potential to reveal the wider stakes of a given event. Closer examination of discourse over mask-wearing points to a seemingly irreconcilable tension between those who favor personal freedom and comfort of the individual and those who value the health of the collective population. In Revolutionary-era France between 1789 and 1794, discourses about mandating certain kinds of clothing offer us a similar look at how contradictions between personal liberty and collective equality were negotiated. I argue that laws mandating collective equality in appearance proved to be a more rhetorically potent tool of social control, with political division eventually replacing class division as the metric for enforcing these laws.

“Elemental Technology in Romanticism, or Forms of Hinging” || Jennifer Yida Pan

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, November 4, 2021
In this conference paper, I propose to think about elemental technologies in romantic literature. As John Tresch and others have noted, the technological has largely been absent from modern understandings of romanticism. To think about technology, however, is not only to think about machines or, adjacently, science. Technology also involves elements that are much more akin to what we find in the literary. In developing a mode for reading the literary in the technological, I move away from exemplary technological objects and examine instead the elemental components of these objects. What would it look like if, for example, instead of the camera we were to pay attention to the pinhole? Admittedly, the pinhole originated centuries before the camera, but it acquired new form in its camera instantiation. I take as my case study in this paper the broken hinge in Tristram Shandy. A hinge is both a simple machine in itself and a component of more complex technological systems (a door as in Tristram, a kettle, a spaceship). In the literary context of Tristram, the hinge oscillates between literal and metaphorical (door’s hinge and government’s hinge), between representational and functional (representation of hinge and hinge doing the work of narratively hinging parlor and government), in short between its direct instantiation as technical device and its contribution to Tristram’s characteristic meandering style: “Had the parlour door opened and turn’d upon its hinges, as a door should do – Or for example, as cleverly as our government has been turning upon its hinges […].” As sites of convergence between literature and technology, where isolated technological elements such as the hinge can do technological and literary work simultaneously, elemental forms of technology offer a way to think about the technological and the aesthetic in romanticism as concurrent.

“Horizons of Expectoration: Nineteenth-Century Disgust and Its Afterlives” || Zachary Samalin

Assistant Professor, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
This paper is a basic overview of my book project, The Masses Are Revolting, which is a history of disgust in the British nineteenth century. The book’s principal ambition is to show how this negative emotion came to play an outsized, volatile part in the emergence of modern British society. I elaborate this cultural history of Victorian disgust across six chapters each focused on a different domain of British society, ranging from the construction of London’s sewer system, the birth of modern obscenity law, and the development of the conventions of literary realism, to the emergence of urban sociology, the rise of new scientific theories of instinct, and the techniques of forced ingestion deployed during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I want to propose that this array of domains, in addition to being linked together by their shared reliance on a discourse of disgust, can also usefully be understood as forming the core of the nineteenth-century European ideology of civilization. Infrastructural growth and the consolidation of state power, the practices of colonial domination, the radical transformation of metropolitan space, rapid developments in the arts and sciences, including the birth of the social sciences—in the self-congratulatory view of the British nineteenth century, these were all the fruits of civilizational progress, a wave sweeping over Europe at whose crest sat imperial Britain. Thus another of the overarching goals of my book is to analyze the complex historical imbrication of disgust with the concept of civilization.

“Pirates and Beggars or, “Those That Will Not Work”” || Kevin King

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, October 7, 2020
This first chapter of my dissertation, The Reserve Army of Victorian Literature, explores how the political economic doctrines of “(un)productive” and “surplus” labor informed the Victorian literary establishment’s dealings with piracy/ plagiarism and begging/ charity, and how these issues in turn shaped the anti-establishment critique of bourgeois political economy. The first part, presented here, focuses on Charles Dickens’s war on pirates and beggars in his twin campaigns for copyright protection and to reform the Royal Literary Fund. I argue that these campaigns define and champion a transformation in the social relations of nineteenth-century authorship, even as these new, adversarial relations undermine the grounds of his campaigns in appeals to outmoded notions of the “dignity” and “status” of authors. The second part, for context, focuses on Henry Mayhew’s critique of free trade and establishment hypocrisy regarding authorial property from the experience of being a pirate and beggar himself. Bringing his own early provocation to Dickens about “free trade in literature” to bear on his work in London Labour & the London Poor, I argue that Mayhew displays such hypocrisy himself in pirating the oral history of the street-sellers of literature. Provoking accusations of exploitation from the very lips that were supposed to guarantee his authority as an advocate for the working poor, Mayhew proves that under the new conditions of authorship that Dickens champions, even beggars may be capitalists.

“The Legalistic Worldmaking of the British Empire: The Uneven Development of Sovereignty, 1850-1905” || Rebeca Velasquez

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
This dissertation examines the role of sovereignty in the legal discourse of the British Empire during the second half of the nineteenth century. I argue that the indeterminacy of sovereignty was an intrinsic feature of the legal formations of empire, an indeterminacy expressed across a range of domains as various as government reports, parliamentary debates, and the literary novel. Each chapter of this dissertation investigates different dimensions of British law, its entanglements with imperial policy across multiple colonial settings, and its interactions with the forms of literary narrative. All four chapters address how such legal formations illustrate sovereignty’s dual capacity: its gross exercise of power and its vulnerability to open conflict and resistance. Sovereignty, I argue, functions less as an identifiable object and more as a set of relationships between multiple levels of imperial authority, local conflicts over territory and labor, native agency and resistance, and the defining and redefining of racial otherness. In this way, sovereignty sustained and destabilized the empire at once.

“Pernicious Science: Artifice and the Form of Narrative in Eliza Haywood’s Secret Histories” || Helen Thompson

Professor of English, Northwestern University

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Taking up scholarly calls to study Eliza Haywood’s under-appreciated secret histories, this essay examines Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724), The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1726), and Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo, A Pre-Adamitical History (1736), to explore the relationship between epistemology and narrative form across these texts.  Published during the tenure of the first minister Robert Walpole, Memoirs of a Certain IslandCaramania, and Eovaai claim the signature mode of political power in this period as hypocrisy, specifically amorous hypocrisy, whose sensory impact eludes discrimination by normal empirical means.  This essay examines the formally obtrusive, even superhuman formalizations of epistemological insight mobilized by Haywood in these three texts to represent not simply artifice but the extra-realistic or anti-mimetic narrative agency necessary to intuit it.  Haywood’s career-long engagement with empirical sensation, form, and amorous physiology is refracted through a formal indictment of artifice that shapes the strenuously anti-realist remit of her secret histories.

“Reading for Technological Design” || Jennifer Yida Pan

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, January 29, 2020
This paper argues that we need to engage design as a new paradigm for the literary study of technology. It traces the importance of design thinking through Bauhaus and Marx and considers its ethical and formal implications. Though we tend to think of technology as tool-like, it can actually be quite unpredictable. The inherent possibilities within a technological object are crucial sources of potential for narrative action.

“Byron’s Queer Grief, Form and the Thyrza Cycle” || Madison Chapman

PhD Student, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
In this paper, I look at two poems from Lord Byron’s Thyrza cycle, an often overlooked set of elegies thought to be inspired by the death of a male lover. These poems exemplify the careful line Byron walked throughout his career, both revealing and concealing instances of taboo desire, tantalizing his readers. What, on the surface, looks like strict adherence to conventions of elegy is in fact manipulation of form in order to both obscure and articulate instances of specifically queer grief. Frustratingly, existing scholarship on the Thyrza poems and Byron’s queerness often fails to go beyond scandalous biography. The best biographical work on Byron’s queer life has failed to consider the Thyrza poems, and the strongest literary criticism on the Thyrza cycle has not fully considered the implications of the poems’ coded queer references. I aim to bridge this gap between biographical writing on Byron’s queer desires and criticism on Byron’s navigation of the formal conventions of elegy in the Thyrza poems. This project represents a small and experimental element of a dissertation chapter which, in its completed form, will examine Byron’s repeated turn to scenes of dead and dying men in order to articulate queer grief and visions of impossible queer futures.

“”Playing for Keeps”: Sentimental Women and the Vices of Objectification” || Katie Nolan

PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
This dissertation chapter fits into a larger project considering the modes of objectification in the long eighteenth-century. It reads botanical metaphors about women as plants (specifically in Erasmus Darwin’s poetry and non-fiction) alongside sentimental fiction, particularly Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, to define a mode of objectification that I call “sentimental objectification.” It then turns to potential feminist responses to the way women are objectified under the sentimental in both Wollstonecraft’s polemic, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. 

Magic in Cranford || Amanda Shubert

Humanities Teaching Fellow, University of Chicago

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
In lieu of a paper for this workshop, Dr. Shubert will be delivering a presentation:  Why does Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, a mid-nineteenth century realist novel about the everyday lives of a group of unmarried small town women, center on a scene on magic? In this talk, I argue that Cranford turns to magic to explore the phenomenology of realist fiction. I situate the novel in the mid-nineteenth century tradition of stage magic and optical conjuring, underwritten by medical and scientific discourses about the nature of optical perception. Through the framework of magic, Gaskell portrays realist fiction as an optical apparition that is visualized by the reader. This talk is a more evolved and more streamlined version of a paper I shared at this workshop as a graduate student in 2017.

“Equality or Equilibrium: Time Travelling with Economics” || Elaine Hadley

Professor of English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, November 6, 2019
This chapter argues that the rise and consolidation of equilibrium theory in neoclassical economics in the later 19th century redirected the study of markets away from questions of wealth and income distribution and thus incapacitated that form of economics from addressing inequality. Through a range of readings economic, literary and visual—a Robinsonade, a George Cruikshank engraving, H. G. Wells’ A Time Machine—the chapter attempts to foreground these revisions within neoclassical economics even as it reveals the deep misgivings contemporaries detected in this new “science” of the market.

“Victorian Afghanistan, the Iron Amir, and the Poetics of Marginal Sovereignty” || Zarena Aslami

Associate Professor of English, Michigan State University

Wednesday, October 25, 2019
This essay turns to a set of late nineteenth-century literary texts that feature Abdur Rahman, who ruled Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901, as their subject: Sir Alfred Lyall’s “The Amir’s Soliloquy” (1889), Rudyard Kipling’s “The Amir’s Homily” (1891), and Lillias Hamilton’s A Vizier’s Daughter (1900). These texts reveal a dominant theme in Victorian representations of Afghanistan: the impossibility of Afghan sovereignty. This impossibility was due, the fantasy goes, to the ungovernability of the Afghan people and not to internal problems within the Western concept of sovereignty itself. Examining British policies of “returning” radically revised versions of sovereignty to Afghanistan after each of the two Anglo-Afghan Wars, the essay argues that such compromises gave rise to a poetics of marginal sovereignty governing Victorian representations of Afghanistan.

“The Salvaging Disposition: Waste and Plenitude in Eighteenth-Century British Literature” || Allison Turner

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago

Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Please join us for our final meeting of the school year. Allison will give a presentation on her dissertation “The Salvaging Disposition: Waste and Plenitude in Eighteenth-Century British Literature.” There will be no precirculated paper for this meeting. Instead, Allison asks workshop attendees to read a short poem by Jonathan Swift. The poem, “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” can be found here. An abstract of Allison’s dissertation is posted below.
In this dissertation, I locate the emergence of a modern sense of waste in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Baconian science and European colonialism began to conceive of the New World as an untapped spring of inexhaustible resources. Alongside this ideology of infinite growth, I argue that the period of early modernity also witnessed a surge of interest in the category of byproduct waste as a site of potential value. This new conception of waste—as salvageable byproduct—is evident in one of British literature’s earliest novels, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, after his shipwreck, Crusoe sustains himself by fashioning an island habitation out of the very wreckage that made him a castaway. My project follows this salvaging impulse in works that have long been associated with the rise of the novel in this period. I focus on texts that foreground salvaging, rather than property ownership, as the constitutive feature of modern identity. In doing so, I also engage centrally with recent developments in the history of the novel.

“Three Logics of Equality in Godwin” || Sam Rowe

Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in the Humanities, University of Chicago

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

This paper revisits William Godwin’s writings in the early 1790s as a case study in evolving conceptions of human equality during the Enlightenment. Responding to both Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment thesis and Jacques Ranciere’s early work on democracy and radical education, it argues that there were at least three available conceptions of equality extant in the aftermath of the French revolution, and that Godwin’s Political Justice (1793) and Caleb Williams (1794)are situated at their intersection. Educated as a dissenting minister, intellectually drawn to proto-liberal utilitarianism, and possessed of deep sympathies for middle- and working-class radicalism, Godwin happens to have been perfectly situated to channel three impulses: a conservative/sentimental tradition of “mutual subjection,” a liberal tradition of formal equality, and a radical tradition that I (following the Encyclopedistes) call “natural equality.” I first argue that many of the interpretive difficulties dogging Godwin’s Political Justice stem from his attempt to navigate between these tendencies. I then offer a reading of Caleb Williams as an extended fictional meditation on a central Radical Enlightenment question: in what sense can persons be said to be equal?

“Dickens’s Many Bozwells” || Kevin King

PhD Student in English, University of Chicago
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
5-6:30 pm
Rosenwald 405

“Emma and the ‘Chimera of Relativism’” || Yasmin Solomonescu

Assistant Professor in English, University of Notre Dame
Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Cultures Workshop is pleased to announce the Annual Meeting of the Johnson Society of the Central Region. The schedule for the symposium can be found here.

The Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Cultures Workshop along with the Department of English and the Franke Center for the Humanities is pleased to present:

“Ecological Formalism; or, Love Among the Ruins” || Nathan K. Hensley
Assistant Professor in English, Georgetown University 
Friday, March 9, 2018

“A Crisis of History: Poverty, Progress, and ‘Practicable Socialism’” || Lucy Hartley

Professor in English, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Wednesday, March 7, 2018


“The Odor of Things” || Zach Samalin

Assistant Professor of English , University of Chicago
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Illusions of Slavery: Law versus Legitimacy and the Declaration of Independence in Dred and The Heroic Slave” || Isaac Mier

MAPH Student, University of Chicago
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

“The Body on the Moor: Wuthering Heights, Depopulation, and the Solitary Scene of Species Life” || David Womble

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

“She Objects: On the (Im)mobility of Women in the 18th-Century Novel” || Katie Nolan

PhD Student in English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“Women’s Botanical Textbooks: From Native Blooms to Monster Plants” || Anna K. Sagal, PhD

Monticello College Foundation & Audrey Lumsden-Kouvel Fellow at the Newberry Library, 2017-18

Wednesday, November 15, 2017



 A discussion led by David Womble on George Eliot’s “Natural History of German Life” and Georges Canguilhem’s “The Living and its Milieu”  
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

“Godwin’s Grammar: Wishful Thinking with a Rule” || Lauren Schachter

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The projected fourth chapter of my dissertation (about how grammatical discussions in the age of the standardization of the English language bear on, and are in turn inflected by, the theory and practice of forms of fiction) is titled “Godwin’s Grammar: Wishful Thinking with a Rule.” It examines the allegedly endangered grammatical mood of the subjunctive as it animates pivotal scenes in Godwin’s 1794 novel Caleb Williams. Specifically, I argue that the subjunctive offers a linguistic form for exploring romantic fiction’s engagements with necessitarian philosophy, and the problems posed by this philosophy for the narration of history. 



“Conjuring Cranford: Apparitions, Natural Magic and Narration” || Amanda Shubert

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This chapter takes up Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1853), one of the classic examples of Victorian realism, in relation to the mid-nineteenth century discourses and practices of “natural magic.” Cranford is almost synecdochic with Victorian realism itself. It features an eminently sensible first-person narrator whose reports on the everyday happenings of the elder women in a small provincial town are representative of realism’s emphasis on observation and ordinary life. But while the novel has been thoroughly interpreted by generations of literary critics, scholars have never fully explored or provided historical contextualization for the character of Signor Brunoni, an itinerant conjurer who performs two magic shows over the course of the novel. My chapter situates Cranford in the booming mid-nineteenth century stage magic and optical illusion industry, focusing on its relationship to Letters on Natural Magic, David Brewster’s seminal work on magic from the perspective of science and technology. In so doing, it argues that Gaskell draws on discourses of magic and optical entertainment to theorize fictional narration as a style of conjuring.

“Becker the Obscure: Modeling Human Capital” || a talk by Elaine Hadley

Professor of English, University of Chicago

Wednesday, June 1, 2017

In lieu of a pre-circulated paper, Professor Hadley has provided short selections from Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure to be read in advance, which are available under the “Materials” tab with a password circulated to our listserv.


“A Natural History of Violence: Allegory and Atomism in Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy” || Amanda Jo Goldstein

Assistant Professor of English, Cornell University

Thursday, May 18, 2017



“Landscape with Figures: Reimagining the Forest” || Allison Turner

PhD Candidate, University of Chicago
Thursday, May 4, 2017

“Inventing the Holocene: Climate, Deep Time, and Civilization in Victorian Britain” || Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago

Thursday, April 20, 2017


“Describing Murder: Anna Katharine Green’s Criminal Procedure” || Thomas Dikant

Post-Doctoral Student, University of Chicago

Thursday, April 6, 2017

“Orfeo, or Castrati of Sensibility” || Jessica Peritz

Thursday, March 9, 2017


“Wordsworth’s Obscurity” || Anahid Nersessian

Assistant Professor of English, UCLA
Thursday, January 26, 2017

“States of Undress: The Eroticism of Clothing in the 18th-Century Novel” || Katie Nolan

PhD Student, University of Chicago

Thursday, January 12, 2017

“Matthew Lewis and the Gothic Face” || Sam Rowe

PhD Candidate, University of Chicago
Thursday, November 17, 2016

A discussion of Irene Tucker’s “Kant’s Dermatology; or, The Racialization of Skin,” in The Moment of Racial Sight: A History (Chicago, 2012)

Thursday, November 3, 2016


“Metafictionality and the Liminal in George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key'” || Ian Caveny

Thursday, October 20, 2016

George MacDonald, a Victorian-era Scottish writer, is a figure perhaps best well-known for those he influenced–C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien–than for his own works. In this essay, I propose a novel reading of one of MacDonald’s most well-received short stories, “The Golden Key,” problematizing the classical readings of the text through Robert Lee Wolff’s psychoanalysis and Christian academia’s soteriological interpretation. Instead, I suggest a reading of the text through the lens of “reading”–that is, the metafictional–bringing MacDonald’s fictional work into context with his nonfiction essays on the imagination and reading. Alongside this, I argue that MacDonald suggests an intrinsic relationship between “reading” / the metafictional and “liminality,” leading me into a discussion describing MacDonald’s thought as proto-narratological and setting him as an intellectual predecessor–albeit, a distant one–to the narratology of Gerard Genette and more recent theorists such as Thomas Pavel and Marie-Laure Ryan.


“Civil War: The Lowest Stage of Civilization” || Nasser Mufti

Assistant Professor of English, University of Illinois at Chicago
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Over the last four decades, it has become commonplace to think of the nation as consolidated by “imaginations,” “fictions,” and “narratives.” But how do nations disaggregate or dissolve, such as in civil war? By adapting a famous phrase of Benedict Anderson, Civilizing War: Imperial Politics and the Poetics of National Rupture asks what it means to “un-imagine” community. Through comparative readings of literature, criticism, historiography, and social analysis, I show how writers and intellectuals from both the metropolitan and colonial worlds of Britain’s Anglophone empire articulate what I call a “poetics of national rupture” to make the nation and its others legible. This poetics takes on a variety of forms—figures, metaphors, tropes, puns and (most importantly for my study) plot—all of which, I argue, have played a central role in the British empire and its afterlife. By tracking the close relationship between national rupture and Britain’s civilizing mission, I shift the terms of Edward Said’s influential Orientalism (Vintage, 1979) to suggest that imperialism was not only organized around the norms of civility, but also around narratives of civil war.