Author Archives: Elissa Myers

Book Traces

As a dyed-in-the-wool  Victorianist (and a material history and periodicals enthusiast at that), reading the materials for class today gave me a feeling akin to the heart crumpling sadness and then re-expansion with hope that I felt when I first saw that commercial for the ASPCA with the footage of sad little kitties behind bars followed by the footage of happy little kitties going home with good families. I am only exaggerating a little bit. I was at first very, very  concerned about the books, and then very relieved that there is something we can all do to help.

In all seriousness, however, I think the Book Traces project is nothing short of an ingenious idea both in its conception–the idea that there are things we really don’t know about what people did with books in the nineteenth century, and we need to begin trying in earnest to figure these things out (and preserve the ability for others to try to figure them out in the future) before it is too late–and its method of execution –harnessing the public energy of crowd-sourcing to accomplish these goals.

I also love this project because it clearly illustrates not just the scholarly, but also the human relevance of historical study generally and Victorian studies particularly, a truth that at times even those of us who study such topics are capable of doubting. The long and short of it is, I really enjoyed these readings, and hope to discuss more about them in class!

Martineau and Gaskell at the Morgan Library

By: Elissa Myers

This semester I have been helping Caroline Reitz with a project on female contributors to a periodical Dickens edited called Household Words. Caroline has encouraged me to follow my own interests in the work I do for her, so I have focused to a large extent on Harriet Martineau, whom I am interested in partially from a disability studies standpoint, and partially because she was just a tremendously sassy, eccentric woman who even had the guts to get into quite a public argument with Dickens in the periodical press. In looking at the letters at the Morgan Library, I was pursuing a path already taken by Iain Crawford, one of the foremost scholars on Dickens, who recently wrote an article on the two previously unpublished letters I looked at, in which he argues that the way in which many scholars focus on the argument between Dickens and Martineau obscures the fact that up until that time, they had had a very productive working relationship and a sincere friendship. As Crawford doesn’t publish these letters in full in his article, I wanted to see them for myself, to ascertain whether or not I agree with him. Both letters did seem to me to be open and friendly, exactly as Crawford represented them.

                I had also ordered a few letters written by Elizabeth Gaskell, another contributor to the magazine whose relationship with Dickens was complicated, to Martineau. Because the file on Elizabeth Gaskell was not terribly well-organized, they brought me the whole thing and let me look through it to find what I wanted. The letters extended my sense of the relative amity between Dickens and Martineau, as Gaskell’s mention of receiving “a very liberal proposal” from Dickens to write for All the Year Round suggests that there were no hard feelings between Martineau and Dickens at that time. In a private letter, Gaskell would have had no reason to sugarcoat the feeling of dislike toward Dickens that she and Martineau allegedly shared. However, her mention of him is perfectly cordial, asserting his liberality, and citing the only reason she did not want to work for him to be her dislike of writing in weekly installments.

On my way to finding the two letters, however, I stumbled across something even more interesting—a picture of Elizabeth Gaskell with a “ghost,” an apparition that was created by a photographic overlay, then a new procedure. My first guess is that this picture could have something to do with Gaskell’s renown as a writer of ghost stories. I have not been able to find it in a google image search, or any other information about it, though, so I suspect that the picture might not be generally known in the world of Victorian studies.. I am thinking of sending around a query on Victoria-list, a listserv of which I am a part to inquire. They told me I am not supposed to publish the pictures I took in any way, but I have it for show and tell in class if you guys are interested. At any rate, my trip to the archive yielded both sound progress on my task for Caroline, and exciting, unexpected surprises. Archives make me feel like Indiana Jones!

Child Writers and Child Readers Up Close and Far Away: Distant and Close Readings of Late 19th Century Children’s Periodicals

By: Elissa Myers

Annotated Bibliography – Child Writers and Child Readers Up Close and Far Away: Distant and Close Readings of Children’s Periodicals of the Late 19th Century

I would like to investigate how children were empowered (or not) by the periodical literature they read in late-Victorian and early-Edwardian periodicals written for a child audience. I will pursue this question by ascertaining the extent to which children themselves contributed to these periodicals (through letter-box columns, letters to the editor, etc.), and by looking for other kinds of evidence (perhaps in periodicals, diaries, or juvenilia) suggesting that children used the works or conventions of authors published periodicals in imaginative ways (perhaps in their own writings, or home theatricals), rather than merely internalizing the sometimes didactic messages of these publications.

Though what I have said of the project so far seems to suggest close reading as a methodology, I think for the periodical part of this project, distant reading might allow me to make some generalizations about children’s periodicals that I could then use to extract a representative sample of journals to deal with. I think this would be particularly useful as periodical studies tend to be pretty anecdotal, because up until very recently there has been no useful way of making any generalizations about such a large, heterogeneous corpus, or of assuming one’s sample to be representative. Alternately, if I do choose to examine periodicals that stray from the norm, at least such a distant reading could provide me with the knowledge of whether or not these periodicals are normative, precluding an argument that takes several isolated examples to be true across the board.

Brake, Laurel. “Half Full and Half Empty” Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (June 2012): 222-229. EbscoHost. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Brake’s article details the hazards of working with digitized periodicals. Particularly interesting to me is the fact that only some periodicals have been digitized and that one’s experience of the periodicals is also affected by which periodicals are packaged together. Brake demonstrates that it is dangerous to make generalizations from these databases because they by no means necessarily represent meaningful samples of what was read by the Victorian public and often obscure the relationships between publications.

Brazeau, Alicia. “I must have my gossip with the young folks’: Letter Writing and Literacy in The Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine and Fireside Companion. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.2 (2013): 159-176. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Brazeau examines the “chats” taking the form of letters between editors and young readers and attempts to problematize assumptions about the lack of child agency in the nineteenth century in the vein of Marah Gubar. My project seeks to be part of this burgeoning tradition of problematization.

Gubar, Marah. Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Complicating the familiar narrative of nineteenth-century children’s books in which child agency is always stifled by adults who eroticize their supposed innocence, Gubar argues instead that children are in some sense co-creators of certain types of literature such as children’s theatre. Again, this book provides a theoretical framework for the type of analysis I want to do.

Gubar, Marah. “Risky Business: Talking about Children in Children’s Literature Criticism.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.4 (2013): 450-457. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Adapted from a talk Gubar gave at the Children’s Literature Association conference in 2013, this essay posits that scholars have overcorrected their assumptions about childhood in the wake of the publication of Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Childhood and Perry Nodelman’s The Hidden Adult. These books suggested that child agency has been stifled by adults’ desire to eroticize and romanticize children’s innocence, as well as adults’ tendency to make generalizations and assumptions about what children think or feel as a “group”—an idea that is to some extent true. However, Gubar believes the current alternative, which seems to be not discussing actual children in children’s literature studies at all– also marginalizes children. Gubar suggests that we as scholars begin to seriously and thoughtfully venture into the area of theorizing children’s experiences of and contributions to children’s literature. This article provides a more overt, manifesto-like statement of the theory underlying Gubar’s book.

Hobbs, Andrew. “Five Million Poems, or the Local Press as Poetry Publisher, 1800-1900.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.4 (Winter 2012): 488-492. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Hobbs aims to foreground the local newspaper as a venue for poetry by examining the British Library’s digitized database of more one hundred local newspapers. This is one of the few examples of distant reading of periodicals I have found, which I will use to guide my own methodology of distant reading.

Houston, Natalie, Lindsy Lawrence, and April Patrick. “Teaching and Learning with the Victorian Periodical Poetry Index.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.2 (Summer 2012): 224-227. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

The authors of this essay delineate the methodology and theory behind their production of the Periodical Poetry Index, as well as some of the possible uses of it. This project might provide me with a model for my own, as it strives to encourage by its project design distant reading with contextualized, sequential reading of entire periodical issues.

Hughes, Linda. “Media by Bakhtin/Bakhtin Mediated.” Victorian Periodicals Review 44.3 (2011): 293-297. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

In reaction to Dallas Liddle’s The Dynamics of Genre, Hughes establishes the need to read the journalistic, poetic, and fictional pieces in Victorian periodicals not only as exemplars of their respective genres, but also in the context of the periodicals in which they appear. Because Linda Hughes is such an important scholar in the field of periodical studies, I tend to read her hesitancy about distant reading as exemplary of a larger debate raging right now as to whether or not to read periodicals distantly.

Hughes, Linda. “SIDEWAYS!: Navigating the Material(ity) of Print Culture.” Victorian Periodicals Review 47.1 (Spring 2014): 1-30. Project Muse. Web.

In her article, Hughes argues that “the task of conceptualizing Victorian print culture and devising methods to navigate its massive materiality has become more pressing because of the digitization of Victorian periodicals. However, Hughes advocates for a “sideways” reading of Victorian periodicals that incorporates different genres, interactions between text and illustrations, and sequential reading rather than what she refers to as “data mining,” though I think she actually means distant reading. She discusses how periodical texts were frequently in dialogue with each other, uses metaphors of city and web simultaneously. These convey meaning of materiality and intertextuality at the same time. Hughes’s caution guides my own use of both close and distant readings of periodicals.

Lejeune, Philippe. Le Moi des Demoiselles: Enquête sur le journal de jeune fille. Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1993. Print.

This book delves deeply into the diary of a young French girl writing in the nineteenth century. The author’s investigation of the young woman’s diary is also framed by her own research journey, making it especially useful for learning about the methods by which one does such research.

Liddle, Dallas. “Reflections on 20,000 Victorian Newspapers: ‘Distant Reading’ the Times using The Times Digital Archive. Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (2012): 230-7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Liddle applies Moretti’s technique of distant reading to Victorian newspapers by using some of Gale Cengage’s metadata about these titles, including the file sizes of pdfs, which yield information about the visual density of the pages. He also uses word counts of individual leader articles to demonstrate how these articles became longer as the century went on. Liddle’s use of distant readings that incorporate visual elements might provide me with a solution as to how to deal with the problem of illustrations in my work.  

Manson, Michel and Annie Renonciat. “La culture matérielle de l’enfance: nouveaux territoires et problématiques.” Strenae: Recherches sur les libres et objets culturels de l’enfance 4 (2012): paragraphs 1-23. OpenEdition. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

This article provides a useful overview of recent research into children’s material culture—including descriptions of the methodology and theoretical underpinnings as well as the challenges of this kind of work. This will be useful in providing a starting point from which I can glean more sources with which to theorize my own argument, which to a large degree, rests on an understanding of what it means to examine how children are either empowered or not by their contributions to material objects (periodicals), as well as their use of the narratives found within periodicals in their everyday play.

Mitchell, Sally. The New Girl: Girls’ Culture in England, 1880-1915. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Print.

Sally Mitchell argues that the concept of girlhood as distinct from womanhood developed in the period from 1880-1915. I am considering using this time period for my own analysis. Her use of many different kinds of literature, including advice manuals and magazines, to make her argument might also provide me with a model of incorporating several different genres.

Moruzi, Kristine. Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850-1915. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. Print.

Moruzi’s book provides a look at attitudes about girlhood promulgated in several widely-read Victorian periodicals written for girls. I am particularly interested in her examination of girls’ contributions to these periodicals in such venues as essay competitions.

Mussell, James. The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
This book will help me get a sense of what periodicals scholars have already done towards incorporating digital methods into their scholarship, enabling me to create a proposal for a project that engages with current scholarly conversations.

Nicholson, Bob. “Counting Culture; or How to Read Victorian Newspapers from a Distance.” Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (2012): 238-246. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Nicholson argues that applying the methods of distant reading, particularly those of “culturomics” to British newspapers would give us valuable insight not only because it would allow us to see how a large, difficult-to-theorize body of work changed over time, but also because the day-by-day nature of newspaper reporting could render such a view could provide uniquely precise views of the evolution of Victorian culture. Nicholson generates searches for different keywords in selected time brackets, and then maps their correlation/proximity to other keywords. Nicholson’s methodology could be useful for my own work with periodicals because many of the problems of readability and missing data with which Nicholson deals also frequently occur in periodical research.

Phillips, Michelle. “‘Along the Paragraphic Wires’: Child-Adult Mediation in St. Nicholas Magazine.” Children’s Literature 37 (2009): 84-113. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Examines children’s letters from St. Nicholas’s “letter-box” column in order to illustrate the fluidity of child-adult boundaries in the magazine.

Rodgers, Beth. “Competing Girlhoods: Competition, Community, and Reader Contribution in the Girl’s Own Paper and the Girl’s Realm.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.3 (Fall 2012): 277-300. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Rodgers’ article delineates how the two magazines listed in the article’s title aimed to reconcile competing ideas of girlhood through an emphasis on community.

Sanchez-Eppler, Karen. Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005. Print.

Sanchez-Eppler argues that children contributed to the making of social meaning in nineteenth-century America by examining many different kinds of historical sources such as drawings and diaries by children and manuals about childcare. I am interested in how one might examine these sources in tandem with a distant (and perhaps a close, as well) reading of Victorian periodicals in order to reevaluate children’s voices and agency.

Smith, Victoria Ford. “Toy Presses and Treasure Maps: Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne as Collaborators.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35.1 (2010): 26-54. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

This article theorizes Stevenson and his stepson Osborne as collaborators on Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, through examining their unique use of toy printing presses. This article once again uses an interesting mix of methods to demonstrate children’s co-creation of the literature they read—a model I wish to emulate.

St. Nicholas and Mary Mapes Dodge: The Legacy of a Children’s Magazine Editor, 1873-1905. Ed. Susan R. Gannon, Suzanne Rahn, and Ruth Anne Thompson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004. Print.

This is the only full-length study of one of the most important and most collaborative children’s magazines. St. Nicholas included a letter-box as well as other features such as writing competitions.

State of the Field: Victorian Literature

By: Elissa Myers

3-5 Journals
Victorian Periodicals Review
I am particularly interested in Victorian Periodicals, and this journal is the primary place in which arguments centered on periodicals rather than novels or poetry are published
Victorian Literature and Culture
This journal is interdisciplinary, so it has a lot of articles about historical phenomena and popular culture in the Victorian era as well as literature.
Victorian Studies
One of the premier journals for Victorian Studies. Important for knowing the debates being had by big names in the field.
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
This journal is published online by Birkbeck College, University of London. Their issues are always themed, so you get to understand what they consider the big issues in the field to be. It is also open-access.

3 Books
Kaplan, Fred. Sacred Tears: Sentimentality in Victorian Literature. New York: Oen Road Integrated Media, 2013. Print.
More specifically, I am interested in how writers deployed sentiment in their novels in order to have certain emotional effects on their readers.
Moruzi, Kristine. Constructing Girlhood Through the Periodical Press: 1850-1915. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. Print.
This book combines my interests in chidren’s literature and periodicals.
Mussell, James. The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
This book will help me get a sense of what periodicals scholars have already done towards  incorporating digital methods into their scholarship, enabling me to create a proposal for a project in Digital Praxis that engages with current scholarly conversations.

3-5 Conferences
Research Society for Victorian Periodicals Conference
North American Victorian Studies Association
NAVSA is widely known as the premier conference for Victorian Studies in America.
British Women Writers Conference
I attended this conference last year and was impressed by how welcoming the senior scholars were, as well as how engaged all the discussion panels were. This seems like a great conference because it strikes a balance between selectivity and warmth. Plus it is all about women writers—one of my specializations.
NEVSA, Northeast Victorian Studies Association
The Northeast Victorian Studies Association is known for being friendly toward grad students and for having an intimate environment.
VISAWUS, Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western U.S.
I just attended this conference, and found it extremely helpful. Because it was small (only 2-3 concurrent panels throughout the conference), I got lots of good feedback from grad students and professors. There was a more collegial atmosphere because we were all going to each other’s panels and forming stronger connections.

3 University Press Series
Edinburgh Critical Studies in Victorian Culture, Edinburgh UP –  This series publishes many books making historical arguments. One title that was particularly interesting to me was Roomscape: Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf. I am also interested in some of their othe titles that are about urban culture and transportation at the fin-de-siècle.
Ashgate Nineteenth Century Series – This series focuses on popular culture and literature of the entire nineteenth century, rather than just the Victorian period. This is useful for me because I also like to study “the long nineteenth century.”
Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture – The series’ inclusion of the word “writing” rather than literature indicates its commitment to historicism and to publishing not only traditionally-recognized “literary” writers, but also non-canonical writers.

3 Speaker Series
Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies
Seems like one of the most vibrant Victorian communities I have heard of. They have many talks that tend to be interdisciplinary, incorporating art history, history, science, and other disciplines. Also mirror my interests to a large degree with strong interests in affect theory and reader experiences of 19th century works. One interesting talk is about the “Our Mutual Friend” reading project in which people read the novel according to the time frame in which it was serialized, took on characters from the novel and tweeted as them during the duration of the group’s reading of the novel. They are also available in podcasts from their website.
Victorian Seminars at the CUNY Grad Center
I recently attended a Victorian Seminar that discussed the use of French in Jane Eyre. It was very engaging, and both professors and students came from all around the New York and New Jersey area to attend.
The Victorian Centre’s Spring Seminar Series (University of Leicester)
These lectures focus on a wide variety of nineteenth-century topics

3-5 Scholarly Blogs
Pope, Catherine. Victorian Geek. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
Reviews books, gives advice on digital methods and pedagogy in Victorian lit.
Nicholson, Bob. The Digital Victorianist. Web. 19 Oct. 2014
Blogs about transatlantic literature and conferences, Victorian humor, and using digital methods in Victorian scholarship and pedagogy.
Tetens, Kristan. The Victorian Peeper.  Web. 19 Oct. 2014. Print.
This blog as one reviewer says “knows more about Britain than is safe.” There is a wealth of posts on a variety of nineteenth-century historical issues.

3-5 Twitter accounts by scholars
Ana Parejo Vadillo – @aipv2010
Studies the effects of late nineteenth-century technologies of mobility, as well as place, on British female poets.
Anne Helmreich – @anne_alh
Digital humanities and art history scholar who studies the codification of certain ways of looking at art in the nineteenth century
Laurel Brake – @printjournalism
Wrote foundational works on Victorian periodicals
Patrick Leary – @PatrickLearyVIC
Also an important figure in Victorian periodicals scholarship
Caroline Reitz – @CWWrites
Works on periodicals at the Grad Center

3-5 Twitter accounts by institutions
Birkbeck C19 Studies – @BirkbeckC19
Details the many events both on location and digital that the C19 Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies hosts and links to other events of interest.
UoL (University of Leicester) Victorian Studies @victoriancentre
Details events of interest such as conferences, as well as current news and extracurricular events related to Victorian Studies
Victorian Studies – @VictStudies
Again is up to date on a wide variety of Victorian-related events
Victorian Periodicals Review @vpreditors
Mentions events and ideas specific to periodical scholarship as well as ones for a broader audience.

Pedagogy of the Adjuncts

I really enjoyed both Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching as a Subversive Activity and found, unexpectedly, lots of similarities. For instance, Freire advocates “problem-posing pedagogy” and ? advocates the “inquiry method.” Both seem to mean posing problems that students then discuss, and that then lead to more problems, rather than easy answers. Both also emphasize that students themselves should engage in critical inquiry, asking questions and gathering information in order to confront the reality of their own situations, rather than being “submerged” as Freire puts it in the oppressors’ (or adults’) reality. Both also share the idea that public education (ostensibly including university education) is basically intended to keep people submerged, to distract people from reality, rather than exposing them to it.

There is also an important difference between Freire and Postman, however—that Postman’s system is geared to “help young people master concepts of survival in a rapidly changing world,” while Freire’s goal is Marxist revolution. Though I am continually encouraged to think creatively and critically in many of my undergraduate and graduate classes, I think many of us connected to the university system often ignore the oppressive nature of the university itself, which Freire would likely point out, as far as it is possible to do so.

I am going to school for my doctorate (as we all are) to (hopefully) become a tenure-track professor. While I am committed to my career path for many reasons—because I want to teach others how to think critically and to enjoy literature, and because I have an incurable passion for literature myself, I am also honest about the economic dimensions of my dream. I like to travel and listen to Beethoven!

On the other hand, that middle-class reality is not happening for many teachers of English who are struggling to make a living as adjuncts. I see clearly that many teachers are themselves oppressed, and yet I, and I think many others, still cling to the hope of a tenure-track job, rather than addressing ourselves to the question of how the whole university teaching system might be reformed, even when we know it is likely to become our problem in earnest if we become adjuncts. I know this post is a bit rambly, but it (hopefully) sets forth my big question: How can we not only implement Freire in our classrooms, but also address the reality that the university itself is an oppressive system (hopefully while remaining a part of it)?