Talia Schaffer, Queens College CUNY and the Graduate Center CUNY: Care Ethics and Victorian Fiction


Talia Schaffer The pandemic has generated a lot of interest in thinking about care and the collective social organizations associated with care. In this seminar, we ask how we can read with care in a way that is helpful and productive – how we might think of writing literary criticism as an act of care. We will be using readings from ethics of care, a feminist and disability studies philosophy. We’ll look at definitions of ‘care’ from Joan Tronto, Eva Feder Kittay, Daniel Engster, and others, testing them out by discussing their applicability to a scene from Bleak House to figure out which works best and why. How might we use care ethics in literary criticism, particularly in Victorian studies, to move away from the intensive focus on the deep individual to develop alternative forms of interpretation, concepts of character, and narrative structures? How might we read in a way that prioritizes social interdependency at a communal scale? What kind of reading do we need to develop to accommodate fictional caregivers? What insights might emerge from insisting on that kind of work? This seminar will introduce participants to the ideas of ethics of care while discussing and developing a critical methodology based on the theory.

Amardeep Singh, Lehigh University: Thinking Justice Across the Imperial Divide: Narrating Anglo-India


Amardeep Singh Early colonial discourse studies in 19th-century literary studies traditionally tended to center the voices of Anglo-Indians like Rudyard Kipling or Maud Diver, with only marginal representation of Indians themselves. Recent scholarship has shifted the balance considerably so that alongside Flora Annie Steel and Sara Jeannette Duncan, there is a growing emphasis on the texts of writers like Cornelia Sorabji, Pandita Ramabai, the Tagores, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein, and others. How did Indian writers and activists contribute to the evolving intellectual and political landscape of 19th-century British India? To what extent can we understand the emergence of Indian nationalisms and indigenous forms of feminist thought as the product of a cross-cultural dialogue? What role did issues such as caste and religious identity play in the emergence of an Indian public sphere in British India? Participants at different levels of investment in this topic are encouraged to join – from early career graduate students to senior scholars deeply committed to the literature of the British Raj.

Greg Vargo, New York University, & Catherine Quirk, Edge Hill University: Political Literature and Popular Culture


Greg Vargo Taking Chartist poet John Watkins’s John Frost (1841) as a case study, this seminar will explore a number of questions about the relationship between literature and radical politics. John Frost recounts the 1839 mass rising of Chartist miners in Wales, a revolt involving some 9000 participants that intended to spark a wider revolution. Acting as an intervention in debates about political violence as a means of achieving democracy in Britain, the play also raises questions around the role of women in mass politics, the place of literature in a movement that included many people who could not read, and the stakes of appropriating a high cultural form (it is a five-act tragedy in blank verse) to radical ends. The seminar will additionally explore issues of generic hybridity, the relationship between popular culture and political countercultures, and how reception can shape the meaning of literary works. To this end, participants will read and discuss seminal accounts of Victorian popular fiction and drama by Rob Breton and Jane Moody, as well as reading John Frost (which will be performed by the NAVSA theater caucus at the 2022 conference).

Martha Stoddard Holmes, California State University, San Marcos, and Joyce L. Huff, Ball State University: Disabling Victorian Studies


The diverse field of disability studies approaches disability from multiple angles: as lived experience, aesthetic, set of cultural and literary tropes, embodied identity, social construction, material condition, political stance, effect of power, and/or epistemological (or cripistemological) lens. This seminar will investigate some of the practices, representations, and understandings of disability in the nineteenth century and will also explore the impact and potential of disability studies for Victorian studies today. Some of the questions we would like to address are: What are some of the methodologies available for making meaning of Victorian disability? How might disability critique intervene in or augment current conversations about topics such as un-disciplining Victorian studies, marginalized voices, ecocriticism, animal studies, cultures of caring, or queer studies? How does disability studies reread familiar texts, images, and events? How does attention to or centering of disability transform Victorian studies and how would the field need to change to accommodate more work in this field? What systemic assumptions about disability structure our readings—and what would it mean to disable Victorian Studies? We welcome scholars and creators with all levels of familiarity with disability studies, from those who work regularly in the field to those who want to learn about it, as well as those working in a variety of disciplines within Victorian studies.

Priti Joshi, University of Puget Sound, Materiality | Emphera; or, What Can the Study of Periodicals Offer Us Today?


This space will offer us an occasion to think with some of the striking work scholars of periodicals (of the UK, US, and other parts of the Anglophone world) are doing that has expanded our geographical and disciplinary boundaries. The seminar will ask us to think together about how we might approach periodicals and newspapers less as accessories and more as historical artifacts. How might this simple reorientation alter what we read, how we read, and where? Might the study of periodicals allow us not merely to expand “Victorian Studies,” but reorient it?

Jim Downs, Gettysburg University: Interdisciplinary Scholarship and its Discontents


Those trained in literary studies might sometimes feel that we are only dipping our toes into historical scholarship per se, citing historical accounts in monographs on literature; perhaps we read an article in the Social History of Medicine or Environmental History and are left unsure how much we should consult the scholarly conversation within that discipline. Likewise, historians might write about or reference fiction or poetry without extensively consulting the most current work on genre or theory and worry about a second reader whole might be an English Ph.D. What might we be missing? How does one know if they have done due diligence vis-a-vis a second discipline? How does one write to a readership in both? What happens if you contextualize or triangulate into a third field or discipline such as health humanities or deploy theoretical or critical approaches such as Black feminist criticism? This seminar will broach the challenges and affordances of doing interdisciplinary work in the nineteenth century, looking at case studies in the history of medicine, science studies, and health humanities.

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