CFP: “Alterities and Abolitionist Forms: Genres of British Abolitionist Literature, 1790-1830”

abolition lit art

I’m so excited to be working with Manu Chander on a special journal issue.

Alterities and Abolitionist Forms: Genres of British Abolitionist Literature, 1790-1830

Essay length:                             7,000—8,000 words
Abstracts due:                           31 March 2017
Essays due:                                1 November 2017

The conversation about literature that circulated in response to Britain’s debates about the slave trade has moved beyond considering Equiano’s Interesting Narrative as the representative text of British abolitionist discourse.  Debbie Lee and Peter Kitson’s eight-volume Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period (1999) was followed by projects that not only upended considerations of the Romantic canon as a whole but also made clear how deeply ingrained questions of national identity and race were to the major figures of the period. Lee’s Slavery and the Romantic Imagination (2002), Paul Youngquist’s Race, Romanticism and the Atlantic (2013) and Evan Gottleib’s Global Romanticism (2014) along with others have prompted questions of alterity, national identity, and genre that underpin Romantic-era literature.

As part of the current critical discourse that takes up questions of alterity and globalism in the wake of newly discovered abolitionist texts and lines of inquiry, we seek essays for a special journal issue that invites contributors to engage collectively with “abolitionist forms”–literary genres and formal innovation, as well as cultural formations (societies, organizations, coteries, etc.), and diverse, non-verbal means of communicating about slavery and emancipation (material goods, visual texts).

Although we are open to essays that take up issues and ideas related to the texts, figures, and movements associated with the period, we are particularly interested in essays that take up the following questions,

  • Can we speak of abolition as genre—as a way of producing/marketing literature, a series of expectations, a discrete set of purposes, styles, forms that cross traditional generic boundaries?
  • In what ways did abolition inspire or require new forms of literary communication, or revisions of traditional generic categories?
  • Where do form and content intersect in abolitionist texts?
  • How did the cultural limits placed on white women writers shape their complicated investment in the abolitionist movement?
  • How did abolition contribute to the formation of social groups in which historically marginalized subjects were given voice?
  • To what extent can we speak of abolition in the singular and what are the limits of history that can be exposed/transcended by theory/literature?
  • How does the use of new technology to uncover/recover under examined sources and the proliferation of online archives shape discourses around raced bodies, particularly for novices?

Manu Samriti Chander is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers-Newark. His research interests include British Romanticism, colonialism and postcolonialism, and aesthetic theory. He is the author of Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century, forthcoming from Bucknell University Press, and the editor of Egbert Martin: Scriptology (Caribbean Press, 2014). He currently is developing a second book project, Art Fights: Aesthetic Controversy and the Lessons of Modernity, which pursues a cultural trajectory from poetic works of Wordsworth and Keats, to the novels of Mark Twain and Vladimir Nabokov, and the films of D.W. Griffith and Stanley Kubrick.

Patricia A. Matthew is an associate professor of English at Montclair State University. She focuses on the history of the novel, Romantic era-fiction and abolitionist literature, and diversity in higher education. She is writing a book about representations of the body and the discourse of disease and illness in Romantic-era fiction. She is the co-editor with Miriam Wallace of a special issue for Romantic Pedagogy Commons (“Novel Prospects: Teaching Romantic-Era Fiction”) and has published essays and reviews in Women’s Writing, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, and the Keats-Shelley Journal. She is the editor of Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and has published essays and books reviews on diversity in higher education in PMLA, The ADE Bulletin, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, The New Inquiry and The Atlantic.

Back in the Romanticism Saddle Again


I took a break from teaching the Big Six for a number of reasons–mostly because it was all beginning to feel a bit rote (if it’s October it must be Blake).  It’s also been more interesting for me to teach the literature of the period around a specific historical debate (Britain’s abolitionist movement) than to teach it as a survey I feel I’m marching through.  But I found myself missing Frankenstein and Coleridge, and even had fond thoughts about Wordsworth, my favorite poet to mercilessly mock. My first thought was that I would revamp the reading list, but I’ve decided to stay with the texts I know I can teach well while trying to fold in what I’ve been thinking about when it comes to how we understand the period.  I’m thinking specifically of the role visual culture plays in how the Romantics and their readers saw themselves and the cultural shifts they faced.  British abolitionist literature lends itself to this. At least I think it does.  That might say more about how I stumbled into it (seeing the cover of the OUP Belinda and wondering about the black figure in the portrait), but I’m hoping for a class where we read image and text at once.  I’ve been thinking of new writing and research projects for my students. This is a constant pedagogical project for me as I try to move beyond the traditional writing assignments while still sticking close to what those assignments are intended to teach.  Based on student feedback, I’ve realized I need to spend more time helping them through the assigned readings, and so one thing I’ve done these last weeks is go through all of my  lecture notes and reading guides/questions and pulled together the best bits and pieces for each assigned reading.  Reading nineteenth-century literature requires a certain set of reading practices students don’t always have, and I need to find ways to help them build a reading (and not just a critical) vocabulary so that they can have a more nuanced understanding of our poems and novels.

Research: Conferences

I’m at the International Conference on Romanticism in Colorado in October and am trying to pull what I promised in this abstract into a cogent argument (for those who read Opie, I’ll focus on the pineapple in Adeline Mowbray):

“Blood Sugar, Genre, and British Abolitionist Literature”

 If, as Pamela Gilbert argues in Disease, Desire and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels, “Genre operates not only as a way of binding the reading processes, but of locating the text within the ‘boundaries’ of a ‘space’ within the marketplace” and if, as Debbie Lee explains in Slavery and the Romantic Imagination, the 1783 Zong case brought the truths about the slave trade “terrifyingly close to home,” how can we understand the different functions of fiction and poetry produced by middle-class English women not only to help abolish the slave trade but also to gain entry into public discourse? I explore this question by considering The Woman of Colour a Tale, Amelia Opie’s “The Black Man’s Lament; or, How to Make Sugar,” and the abolition narrative in her roman à clef Adeline Mowbray. By juxtaposing these texts against Southey’s sonnets “On the Slave Trade” and Hannah More’s “The Sorrows of Yamba,” I argue that women writers worked within the formal constructions of poetry and against the generic constraints of the novel to make radical claims about the effects of the slave trade without losing the sheen of respectability that didactic writing conferred on them. By considering the corporeal as a trope that ties all of these texts together, I argue that the popularity of the novel during the Romantic period was not just a result of its sensational elements but was also a byproduct of a culture that understood its ameliorative powers, even as figures like Dr. Beddoes argued that novels would destroy the nation.

Pray for me, people (actually pray for Hannah More because I probably won’t talk about “Sorrows” as much as she would hope).

Research: The BOOK

One of my mentors took me out for dinner and asked, “If someone requested the manuscript right now what could you give them?” The answer almost made me want to crawl back to my desk. I think this ICR conference paper could be the missing link for the third chapter (I have a draft of the whole book, but the intro is a quite drafty). If so, that would be pretty huge. That would mean the three main chapters are in pretty damn good shape. Part of the problem I have is that I sometimes think I’m writing three different short books instead of one big critical tome. I think that shorter books are more my style, but I don’t know that shorter books would be the best first way for me to take on one of the larger question the book tries to answer, namely how does Romantic-era fiction help us understand proto-feminist contributions to debates about the body? If I can get the proposal out soon (and very soon), my reward will be focusing on two other projects I’m wildly excited about…so excited I could talk your ear off about them if you let me.

Somewhere in all of this I’ll be talking about Written/Unwritten (seven pending invites and counting…*), but I suspect I’m about to become a person who really does write on planes and in hotels over breakfast.

*Yes, I will come to your school or department to talk with your faculty, administrators, and graduate students about diversity in higher ed, but it really does seem as if my calendar will fill up, so, at the risk of seeming a bit pushy, I advise you to get in touch with me sooner rather than later with firm dates.


Sick Novels and Sick Readers and Sick Nations II

tricia’s note: this is my work–my research, my writing, the wrinkles around my eyes caused by all the  squinting that do as I read unpublished manuscripts (often in cold archives where no one lets me drink tea while I work)–so if you discuss it, reference it, or want to talk about it in your own work please give me credit.

I was pretty happy with my ICR paper, and I especially appreciated the smart questions and reading recommendations I got during the Q&A and for the rest of the weekend (this really was a fabulous conference–intellectually stimulating without being oppressively aggressive).  Since getting back from the conference, I’ve spent the time I would normally spend writing sorting through the essays, manuals, and scraps of papers with book titles scrawled on them.  It’s been helpful as I move towards drafting the introductory chapter next month.

One thing I’m wrestling with is how I move between the terms “science,” “medicine”, and “disease.” They are linked but, of course, distinct.  I think I’m writing about science in some chapters (the Valperga chapter and the Woman of Colour, A Tale chapter) and medicine in others (the Belinda chapter and the Adeline Mowbray chapter), and it feels as if I’m writing about disease in a few chapters (the Belinda chapter and the Valperga chapter). Perhaps disease is more a metaphor, or perhaps it’s too broad  Breast feeding, phrenology, abolitionist science, diet: those seem to be the four areas I’m thinking about (I’m feeling rather ambivalent about diet and Adeline Mowbray and suspect I just want to write about indigestion and Adeline’s gassy husband).

Afro-Pedagogy: Reading Abolition, Then and Now

I’m trying to take the best parts of my Jane Austen Seminar from last fall into this new school year.

I loved that class.

It saved me from slipping into a dangerous ennui that was mucking up the vibe in my classes. I took advantage of the structure and the topic, and it worked beautifully. It wasn’t perfect (that was never the goal), but it was pretty damn good.

Given the nature of a seminar (a small group of highly motivated students) and the subject (the Jane Austen canon is perfect for a semester course), I was able to ask students to do four things before the semester started:

  • Imagine their own assignments based on what they wanted to learn about Austen and the skills they wanted to work on over the course of the semester
  • Think about the kind of readings they wanted to do with the texts (mostly theory or mostly context essays)
  • Develop course policies (because I am tired of keeping track of the comings and goings of grown-ass people)
  • Daydream about the kind of “culminating” project they wanted to complete at the end of the semester.

My only rule was that they had to come up with the kind of work I could defend should somebody who thought the could have an opinion about my teaching ask us what we were doing while we ate cookies and talked about Austen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We spent the first day of class brainstorming about the semester, and I asked them to submit work proposals and then met with them individually to make sure they had what they needed from me to work independently.

The students really surprised me.* They came up with ambitious projects (all of which required more research than I would have asked of them), they challenged themselves (I will love forever the incredibly shy student who said she wanted to work on speaking and public and designed two presentations on Austen in adaptation, including discussion questions that she distributed to the class before her presentation so they could have a productive conversation when she was done), and they were more creative than I could ever have imagined (for his final project, the musician in the course played music Austen’s characters would have heard on a keyboard he dragged to class while giving us a lecture on how music composition shifted in Austen’s time). One student wanted to learn how to write book reviews, and he did. It was pretty remarkable to see the transition, a process he reflected on in essays and conferences with me during the semester. Another student wanted to write about Austen the readers of her blog while another put herself in charge of being our guide to the customs of Austen’s readers. We had a student auditing the course who would write these pithy responses to our class discussions, and students shared resources they found on Blackboard.

*The class voted unanimously that i could talk about our work.

It was the best teaching experience of my 15+ years in higher education. I actually looked forward to reading student writing. I wanted to mark and comment on their work.

Let’s all just sit with that for a minute.

In lieu of a syllabus, I sent the class regular memos. There were students who wanted traditional instruction and more direction, and, of course, I was happy to provide that. Everyone got “grades” but more than that I wrote them letters about their work. Sometimes they wrote back. Students who were transferring in from community colleges were especially good about seeing me for help understanding the kind of analytical writing expected of them.

They kept me on my toes, challenging notions about Austen I hadn’t reconsidered in a long time, and asking for more time if they felt I was rushing them through a novel. Best of all, they supported one another in and out of class. They cheered one another on, gave advice and feedback for those who were writing in public, and took on extra-curricular projects together. When things got too stressful, we took a break so everyone could catch up on the readings. And they did.


abolition lit art

I can’t replicate everything about that seminar, but for a class I’m teaching next semester called “Writing in the Major” I plan to take a similar approach by helping students design a series of assignments that feel interesting and meaningful to them. I don’t really know what the course is actually supposed to do, “Writing in the Major” means, but I’m using it as an opportunity to let students experiment with how to use the reading we do in class to focus on a modern political question. The class will focus on British abolitionist literature—primarily poems, novels, and essays published between 1789-1830—but I’m asking students to think of a policy or practice that has been abolished or one that they would like to see abolished and to start thinking of how writers shape and reflect those movements.

We’re forever telling students that being an English major means they can “do anything” and that literary study develops their “critical thinking skills” (I said this in a class a year or so ago and every single student groaned and/or rolled their eyes), so I want this class to be an experiment in what that means in real time.

My working theory is that the reason we so often hear politicians and other rhetorical beings claiming King’s “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” is because movements tend to follow similar patterns, and I’m going to work with my students to help them recognize those patterns. They want so much to “relate” to what we’re reading and this class seems like a good place to let them do that in some sustained and nuanced way. What I hope some of them will do is find literature that reflects and/or contributes to a modern political movement and then discuss their readings in a series of writing assignments we’ll develop together.

More than wanting them to complete a concrete set of tasks, I’d like them to think about the kind of reading and writing they might want to do beyond the classroom. I’m even toying with not requiring them to read everything on the reading calendar but to see the readings as an introduction to the kinds of writing that shapes a social movement. Maybe a student will read the poetry on the syllabus and then do a comparative study of poems written by GLBT writers seeking equal rights in the twenty-first century. Or a student will read about sugar in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and learn about what modern commodities we take for granted rely on slave labor. White women in the early nineteenth century co-opted the issue of slavery for their own political goals (I’m looking at you Wollstonecraft), and I suspect that my students will notice this pattern in modern political movements.

I’m lucky to work closely with faculty who can help me point students down most any path they want to follow. I suspect I’ll be asking my academic twitter community for help.

I’m not sure how this will work, but I’m trusting that my students will be curious enough to work out what they want to do with me as guide and coach. And I’m trusting that whatever my reputation for being “hard” and “intimidating,” students who have worked with me know I’m open to all reasonable revisions to the syllabus. They’ll ask me enough questions to work out the details. I’ll also have the option of traditional assignments, but I really want students to leave class with a reading list for the future.

Like most tenured faculty, my classes tend to be a mix of students who have taken other classes with me and those who probably just took my classes because they are required and/or fit in with their schedule. I know from experience that some of them will jump at the chance to play with what we’re doing in this class while others will feel anxious with the “weight of too much liberty.”

I’ve taught graduate seminars and as a sophomore survey on British abolitionist literature (and published on the topic), so I’m conversant enough in it to let the class experiment with how to use the texts I’ve selected for us. I want us to be all over the place and want to create a space where students are rewarded for reading outside of the classroom and connecting that to the larger questions we’ll consider over the course of the semester.

We’ll write quite a bit, but I don’t know how much grading I’ll do. Instead, I think I’ll consult with students on writing projects and then let them submit work when they feel it’s ready for me to grade. What I found in the Austen seminar and in the Intro to Theory course I teach is that my English majors respond best to short writing assignments that require them to focus tightly on an argument. Longer essays just invite plot summaries and vague prose. Most students hate those longer essays and will never write in that form again, so I’d rather help students figure out how writing fits into their lives and then work with them to do that writing critically, with great care.

Productive chaos in the classroom is my very favorite thing (that and eating excellent cookies with my students), so I’d like to develop an atmosphere while still leaving room for students who actually want and need structure. My Austen seminar made clear how much I can trust students to seek out the most from their course work with a lighter guiding hand, leaving me more time to work with students who need more attention and who are trying to find their way into literary analysis.

In my Romanticism course, I make my students slog through A Defence of Poetry. They kind of hate it, but we linger over this moment:

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.

With this class, we’ll try to figure out how those who trade in language changed the world in their time and ours.