Author Archives: Michael Druffel

Commons as Air

If you are interested in the idea of commons you might want to know that Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, who is at the GC this year from Northeastern University, recently put out a book on the commons called New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World 1649-1849 (Duke University Press, 2014). I read the intro to New World Drama as part of Eric Lott’s class, in which Dillon came to speak a little about her book. As I understood it, the gist of her argument is that after the commons were enclosed during the eponymous “age of enclosure” the imaginative space the commons provided moved to the theater. Whereas the commoner once had the right to enjoy the benefits of the commons, he now had the right to enjoy the theater as a substitute for that space. In Dillon’s engaging talk she mentioned the riots and fights that would occur semi-regularly at theaters if the audience didn’t like the actor or the play. In fact, the audience had so much power that it could not only eat, drink, and talk during the play, it could even shout at the actors to repeat exciting scenes or skip boring ones! Dillon mentioned one incident in NYC in which a regicide was enacted on stage: the American audience become so enthused it stormed the stage to literally attack the actor playing the king. This was all new and exciting information to me, and if you’re interested in learning about the commons and theater then I’d recommend Dillon’s book as a way to continue this discussion.

But right now I’d like to talk a little about the chapters of Commons as Air by Lewis Hyde, who is a professor of writing at Kenyon College. I really enjoyed reading the chapters, which I thought blended history and criticism together in a smooth, persuasive style. Particularly I was interested in his conception of a “stinted commons.” Unlike the neo-liberal rendering of the commons in Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons,” Hyde used well deployed historical details to show the commons was closely regulated by the commoners who “beat the bounds” and by the natural sense of fellowship between commons-users. I thought this was a great point, and Hyde used his historical evidence without turning Hardin into a straw man. In fact, Hyde demonstrated Hardin’s ecological good intentions and explained how Hardin’s theory does apply to fishing. Hyde’s generous reading retrieves the commons as a space of opposition to capitalism’s notion of unbridled growth, yet Hyde is not dogmatic enough to argue the commons are anti-capitalist. He shows that Scottish printers used the commons to ignite the marketplace during the Enlightenment.

While it is flexible, I do really appreciate Hyde’s focus on the commons as a potential antidote to limitless growth. David Harvey, among others, has shown that capitalism relies on continued growth to survive. As Hardin tried to argue in “Tragedy of the Commons,”  the environment cannot support limitless growth. Hardin may have been wrong to point the finger at the commons as a cause of that metastasis, but he was right that our natural resources are running out. However, I’ve heard the argument that “ideas” never run down, and thus capitalism can continue to grow and survive by generating more new ideas and profiting off them. But I believe Hyde has a subtle refutation for this point. He quotes Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s point that record companies only sell the container of an idea, not the idea itself. I think this is a great counter-argument against the neo-liberal idea that capitalism can continue to grow on ideas instead of material. How can the market grow on ideas when it only sells containers? But still, Hyde walks the line of nuance, and is flexible enough to incorporate many other points besides rank anti-capitalism in his piece. He merely shows the commons has the possibility to oppose that kind of growth, but also has much more besides.

Visit to Berg to See Twain Collections

By: Michael Druffel

The Chase–First Day

My first grad school trip to the archives ended in defeat. I had made an appointment to visit the Berg Collection at NYPL to investigate material on Mark Twain. Because I hope to produce a paper on how the material of publishing influenced Twain’s literary content in Huck Finn I had hoped to see Twain’s letters to his publishers, as well as letters to the illustrator, EW Kemble, and any relevant material the archivists could suggest. While corresponding with one of the helpful, friendly, and knowledgable archivists I had been warned that some of the Twain material was out for digitization (a process I heartily support). Optimistically I reasoned that it would still be a good experience to learn about a) the Berg Collection in general, b) whatever material was in house, and c) new search terms to use in my further research that might come from working with the archivists or the Berg’s indexes. Besides, a visit to NYPL would barely be out of my way.

Points a and c were fulfilled wonderfully, and I’d like to touch on them in a minute. However, when I arrived at the Berg I learned that I had been way too optimistic about the material that remained. The Berg had sent pretty much all the Clemens manuscripts, letters, and notes to be digitized. If it was produced during Twain’s life time, it wasn’t at the Collection. The material was due back, according to one archivist, in September (2014), but likely wouldn’t be expected until February (2015) at the earliest. This certainly got me thinking that if I were writing a book, a serious, for-tenure book, then it would probably be a good idea to call around to different archives while I’m still coming up with the topic for the book to learn what is or isn’t available. Deciding on a topic and finding that material is out for at least 1/2 year (and that’s only how long the material was overdue for) could damn a project. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has stories of this happening before, or if I’m playing Chicken Little w/r/t the deleterious impact of lacking archival access. Either way, it’s a lesson at least for seminar papers, which obviously can’t afford 1/2 year of archival absence (if that was conceived of as being important to the project).

However, the trip was not wholly unprofitable. I have my NYPL Berg Collection reader’s card. I know how to submit call slips to call up books in the Berg. And I introduced myself to the Berg’s friendly and helpful staff. But I also did gain some more search terms and knowledge for my paper on Twain. While the material produced during Twain’s life was almost wholly absent from the Berg, the collection had some rare books on Twain that helped me. Two in particular were Arthur Vogelback’s 1939 PhD thesis The Reception of Huckleberry Finn in America and a collection of Century magazines from the 19th century reprinted in a bound volume. While Vogelback’s thesis was old, it was thoroughly researched. He had combed newspapers from the 19th century to offer a wide variety of perspectives on Huck. He made the interesting point that journals, magazines, and papers from Concord were the most critical of HF and were some of the first to call for its ban. Vogelback argued this was because Mark Twain had said some less than flattering words about the Sage of Concord. (Apparently, in a speech Twain called Emerson “bogus.”)  Vogelback’s book also alerted me to a truly strange incident involving Huck in which an artist had drawn an erection or penis (the image is really so crude that it’s hard to tell what the thing is, or even if is an innocent mistake and the imaginative viewer projects the phallic meaning onto it) on Uncle Silas in one of HF‘s many pictures. When the offending image was detected the books hither to sold were recalled and reprinting was further delayed.

Overall, Vogelback’s thesis pointed to a struggle between Twain and the papers who were quick to mock the illustration boner, call for censorship of Huck , and deride the subscription model Twain used. The rift between Twain and some papers has many causes (the aforementioned Emerson slight), but one of them seems to be advertising money. Some newspapers seemed to think Twain didn’t pay enough for ads and were ready to take his work to task as a result. Even though I didn’t see any primary documents, it was helpful to learn how the relationship between press and author shapes the perception of the book.

The other interesting book I found was the Century volume. One of issues inclosed had the famous feud chapter from HF printed as a kind of teaser for the rest of the book. While it didn’t shine anything new on the process, it gave me a good idea of how Twain did use magazines for advertisement. The excerpt included five of EW Kemble’s illustrations as well, which shows, I think, that a big reason for buying books in the 19th century was the art that came with them. (Twain’s letters to his publishers, which I found in an edited volume by Hamlin Hill confirm this.)

While the trip wasn’t a rousing success, I think there were points I could take away. However, since I didn’t get to handle any primary documents, I made a second trip to another archive: NYU’s.

The Chase–Second Day

Feeling like it would be good to handle primary documents, instead of the still helpful books I found in NYPL, I used ArchiveGrid to find another archive nearby. This time I located one that held two letters from William James. Since I am in a class on Pragmatism, I thought it could be useful to check it out. This archive was at NYU, and having applied for a MaRLi, but yet to redeem it at NYU it was a good experience to get there, get the card, and visit the archive.

The WJ material was scant. There were two letters written in sloppy handwriting asking for copies of his book to sent to people. They were in the Helena Born collection, a single box for material created (donated?) by Helena Born, who is, as far as I can tell, an American socialist. I must admit that the visit did nothing to further my project, but it was not w/o merit.

Perhaps the most useful thing I learned was that NYU seems to have great socialist, Marxist, and labor material. These are all topics that interest me, so I’m sure I’ll be back to the archives sooner than later. I’d also recommend to anyone else dealing with labor to check them out: NYU’s Tamimant Library in particular, which is in the Bobst main library building (10th floor) by Washington Park.

But the most fun I had in the library was finding a watermark. I attended after hearing Steve Jones talk so I was feeling for lines and watermarks in the paper. One of the WJ letters had a mark visible when held to the light that read: “Royal Scot Linen / WB Clark & Co / Boston.” It was a lot of fun to see it there and know how it got there.

While neither archival visit furnished me with a perfect document, I think that it was good to get more info for my Twain paper, and fun to see Steve Jones’s facts in action. However, I decided against visiting a third archive to find a really great primary document. Two was enough for this project I thought.

Handy Theory Textbook

Hi all,

The book Theory After Theory by Nicholas Birns was recently recommended to me as a good intellectual history of literary theory and a good way to brush up on post WWII theory before comps. I’m about a third of the way through and so far it’s informative and well-written. Since early in the class a few mentioned feeling in the dark about some theory (I’m one of those who feels lost in theory conversations) I thought it might be a good book to share.

Theory After Theory traces the developments in theory starting with the end of the New Critical era then following chapters on 1) Foucault, 2) Derrida, 3) Feminist Theory, 4) Anti-Racist Theory, 5) Post-Colonial Theory, and 6) Queer Theory. So far I’m through the Foucault and Derrida chapters, and have both learned a lot and been reminded of parts of the those writers’ work I’d forgotten. Theory After Theory is French-theory-heavy, but Birns does a good job explaining why French theory was picked up and came to be so influential.

The book has an excellent index and is a great text for anyone looking to review (or learn) theory and its history.

All the best,


ArchiveGrid–A Way to Find Archives!

Hi all,

I spoke with the librarians at Mina Rees, and found this great tool, ArchiveGrid. It helps you find archives.

I’m attaching the link here:, but if that doesn’t work, here’s how I found it.

Go to the Mina Rees homepage (CUNY GC library), and click on the database tab (right above the box where you’d search for books, articles, &c.). Look under the A databases and click on ArchiveGrid. Voila!

ArchiveGrid will search for archives by city and subject. It’s already been helpful for me.

Have a great day and don’t forget to vote!

All the best,


Annotated Bibliography–Mark Twain & Material Production

By: Michael Druffel

The purpose of this bibliography is to scout out texts that might be useful in writing a paper on how 19th century physical production and distribution of literature influenced the content of Mark Twain’s books. To that end I’m scouting texts that explore both Twain’s own issues with production (e.g.: his dealings with publishers, interest in new printing technology, &c) and texts that explore publishing in Twain’s time more generally. By gaining general knowledge of the material book culture in the 19th century, and combining that background knowledge with Twain specific material, I hope to begin thinking about the ways Twain’s engagement with the material production of books could have influenced his writing. To best organize this bibliography I have broken it into two parts: one on Twain specifically (with an eye to his relations with material processes) and the other on publishing in general in the 19th century.

Twain Specific Material

  • Bird, John. “Mark Twain, Karl Gerhardt, and the Huckleberry Finn Frontispiece.” American Literary Realism 1 (Fall 2012): 28-37. Web.

 John Bird teaches American literature at Winthrop University, specializing in Twain, humor, and HD Thoreau. Bird examines the double frontispiece in Huck Finn: one page displays a frontispiece showing Huck with a dead rabbit; the opposite page shows a heliotype of a bust of Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt, an artist under Twain’s patronage. Bird argues that Twain wanted Gerhardt’s work prominently displayed in the book so Twain would benefit from Gerhardt’s fame. However, this claim doesn’t hold water. How would Twain benefit from Gerhardt’s fame? Bird re-suggests that Twain was smitten with Gerhardt’s wife and wanted to help the young couple. This seems more likely as Twain wrote letters about how beautiful the couple was. However, perhaps the best use for the double frontispiece for my purpose would be to tie it to Michelson’s argument in chapter four of Printer’s Devil and use it as an example of the corporate nature of authorship: sculptor, heliotypist, printer, and binder come together to show an image of Mark Twain.

  • Budd, Louis J. “The Recomposition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Missouri Review1 (1987): 113-130. Web.

Louis Budd was a noted Twain scholar associated with Duke University. Budd was particularly interested in Twain’s politics and social commentary. This article takes Stanley Fish’s assertion that each reader recomposes a text through reading and applies that view to the myriad recompositions of Huck Finn. The most interesting recompositions are: 1) EW Kemble’s recomposition through his 174 illustrations in Huck Finn; 2) why HF is recomposed in readers’ minds as separate and better than Tom Sawyer. Budd notes that initially critics viewed HF and TS almost interchangeably. Around the 1940s HF was lifted to a higher plane. This is interesting to note with regard to Michelson’s claim that authorship becomes corporatized. In Budd’s view, the reader becomes a kind of editor curating the texts of TS and HF. Unfortunately, the article loses steam by going into a diatribe against the canonization of Huck. Budd argues that HF’s canonization abstracts the novel from its comic roots. While the canon offers many dangerous political traps, Budd’s argument isn’t as radical now as it may have been in 1987, and comes across as less than breathtaking. However, the examination of illustrators and readers as kinds of authors is still sharp. 

  • Hill, Hamlin. Introduction. Mark Twain’s Letters to his Publishers. Ed Hill. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967. Print.

Hamlin Hill, editor of Twain’s letters, was a Mark Twain scholar with special interest in Twain’s humor, bitterness, and his relation with his publishers. Hill argues Twain, a former newspaperman, came to literature to make money, and “The world of subscription book publishing into which Clemens moved in 1867 could only have strengthened his commercial approach to ‘literature’” (2). However, Twain struggled against subscription publishing’s (and his own personality’s) push to avarice. Caught between the facts of subscription production (which Hill calls dishonest and profit driven) and his own vision of high-minded literature, Twain vented his frustration on his publishers (MT called one “a most repulsive creature… a bastard monkey”). Hill thinks Twain was really frustrated with himself for sacrificing literary value for commercialism. This analysis seems well founded as Hill deploys quotes from Twain’s letters throughout the intro to show the writer’s struggle with commercialism’s pitfalls. Certainly, the struggle between the mode of production, publishers Hill calls dishonest, and Twain’s divided nature could be an entry point into thinking about how the content of Twain’s novels was shaped by these forces. The one critique I’d offer is that Hill doesn’t go into great specifics about how Twain’s subscription publishers were dishonest, but this could be easily researched further.

  • Jenn, Ronald. “From American Frontier to European Borders: Publishing French Translations of Mark Twain’s Novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (1884-1963). Book History (2006): 235-260.

This is Jenn’s only publication I could find. I do not know if he is affiliated with a university. However, Book History is a relatively new journal founded in 1998 that specializes on broad topics dealing with the history of book production and distribution. In the article Jenn examines the first French translations of TS and HF (1884 and 1886). He notes that Twain encouraged his American subscription sellers to market TS and HF to everyone, but that French booksellers narrowed the audience to children. In fact the translation makes many changes: improving teachers’ images; referring to Tom and Huck as “schoolboys;” concentrating the plot around school; and having Huck and Tom praise literacy they learned in school. In 1881 France made school mandatory and free for children, and French publishers tried to support the cause with pro-school books. As a result the translations of TS and HF are very different from their American counterparts. The translations are beautiful artifacts (gilt edges, renowned illustrators) designed to attract children to school through the physical structure of the book. This article shows one other aspect of production, and how that aspect (translation) shapes a text. It could be useful to think about.

  • Michelson, Bruce. Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006. Adobe Digital Edition. 

    Bruce Michelson is a Mark Twain scholar with special interest in neuroscience and Twain’s humor. His book situates Twain in the midst of a great technological change: steam powered printing, railroads, and telegraphs were re-forming the landscape of American letters. Michelson contends Twain was shaped by these radical shifts, which BM argues are very similar to the digital revolution today, which Michelson thinks is “killing” the author in a Barthes-ian sense. Though the whole book seems useful, I was particularly interested in chapter four, “Huckleberry Finn and the American Print Revolution,” in which Michelson explores the problem of authorship in Huck Finn. Is the author of HF “Huck” or Twain? Michelson argues this question of split authorship hints at the corporate nature of publication when Twain was writing and suggests the multiple personalities were responsible for any single book in 1885: printers, editors, and illustrators to name a few. Michelson has several interesting pages on the technology of illustration and how that collaboration creates the book. This seems useful to my project by situation Twain among the people and technology who make books and showing the very voice of Huck as a kind of collaboration.


General History of Material Production

  • Casper, Scott E, Nissenbaum, Stephen W, and Michael Winship,eds. History of the Book in America, Volume 3: The Industrial Book, 1840-1880. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Adobe Digital Edition.


Scott Casper, who writes the introduction, is a professor of history at University of Maryland Baltimore County. He specializes in 19th century American cultural studies. Volume 3 focuses on the period between 1840, which, as Raven argues, is when steam printing took off, and 1880, when copyright laws began to change how printers could operate. Not technologically deterministic, Volume 3 examines how industrial printing (which includes industrial production of paper) interacted a growing middle class culture of education and “refinement.” But Volume 3 seems hesitant to locate the source of this new culture in the technology itself: rather the other way around. The most interesting chapter is Susan Williams’s (Provost Ohio State University, focus on women and the book before 1900) Authors and Literary Authorship. Because of the amount of capital needed to produce books at the time, publishers gained power. They would bear the cost of printing but pay the author a royalty (percentage of retail price). Sometimes this led to padded statements, which seems to point to the dishonesty Hill alluded to in his intro. However, authors were used to treating publishers not as business partners, but friends: genteel equals. As a result, many authors were hesitant to negotiate with publishers out of politeness. This changing relation between publishers and authors could certainly relate to Twain’s contentions dealing with his publishers.


  • Chartier, Roger, Henri-Jean Martin. Le histoire de l’edition francaise, Tome 3: Le temps des editeurs: Du romantisme a la Belle Epoque. Paris: Fayard/Promodis, 1985. Print.

 Roger Chartier is Directeur d’Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He also teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the current leader of the Annales School that examines the mentalities that exist in different historical periods. The Annales School focuses more on beliefs than on materials like other historians do.

Chartier’s book argues that new printing technology, industrialization of intellectual labor and the development of liberalism (during 1830-1900) created flush times for publishers, but led to eventual overproduction. That overproduction, and eventual competition against other forms of information, led to something of a downfall for the book. What is notable is that Chartier emphasizes the public’s demand for books as a separate feature than simple production through technology. This is not a technologically determinist outlook. Chartier focuses on the editor as the key figure in the history of the book from 1830 to 1900. Twain focuses on publishers. It could be interesting to see how editing fit in with Twain.

  • Martin, Henri-Jean, Lucien Febvre. L’apparition du livre. Paris: Albin Michel, 1958. Print.

 Lucien Febvre, the founder of the Annales School, asked Henri-Jean Martin, then a student, to help him on this book. While Febvre died before more than 10% of the book could be finished, his spirit presides over it. Conforming with the Annales School, L’apparition du livre, offers a look at how the book developed over five centuries, paying attention to the production of paper, transportation, and the growth of a reading public. While the book ends before Koenig built his 1814 steam-powered printing press, it could act as a counterpoint to the steam-power that was taking hold in Twain’s time. L’apparition du livre concludes that, at least before steam power, the book was a conservative force. It spread popular views and reinforced dogma. This seems counterintuitive to one who grew up with Fahrenheit 451 and saw books as an agent of change. Even Twain’s literature is often portrayed as socially minded. Perhaps technology, which made books cheaper, allowed for more voices to gain an ear.

  • McKitterick, David. Old Books, New Technologies: The Representation, Conservation and Transformation of Books since 1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

David McKitterick is a professor and librarian at Trinity College. He resigned one of his chairs when the University of London closed the Institute of English Studies. Like Bruce Michelson, McKitterick relates digitization to 19th century publishing techniques. But McKitterick believes that digitization obscures the meaning of the original text by obscuring the form of the book: “form and meaning are inseparable” (14). To try to recover that connection, McKitterick looks back at the way books were handled, studied and produced from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The most interesting section to my project is McKitterick’s examination of the 1877 Caxton exhibition. McKitterick argues that this exhibition caused British scholars to realize “the essential materiality of print…. If [old books] were to be understood… it was necessary to understand their making” (184). This late 19th century realization (that artifacts from the past are also produced from material through labor) relates in really interesting ways to Twain. Twain’s 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court explores this very idea: that the ancient past (6th century) was subject to its own material production that shaped its culture. Certainly Twain, who was very involved in publishing and the material nature of book production, would be aware of the Caxton exhibition. A good paper could examine how contemporary views of the old books shaped views of the past in A Connecticut Yankee.

  • Raven, James. The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

 James Raven is a Professor of history and Director of the Centre for Bibliographical History at the University of Essex. His book, like McKitterick’s, follows printing history from the early modern period to the 19th century. Raven’s limitation is he only follows the English book. However, any background printing knowledge is helpful. Particularly helpful is Raven’s penultimate chapter “Steam and Stamps: Nineteenth Century Transformations.” He discusses the transformation in British publishing that came with Koenig’s 1814 introduction of the steam-powered printing press. At the beginning of the 19th century the steam-powered press produced a variety of cheap texts briefly freeing creative literature from the constraints of capital. But by 1840 the steam-powered improvement in printing forced little publishers out of the business concentrating publishing power in the hands of a few capitalists. Printers’ growing power led to struggles between the author and the publisher for control of the final product. That this happens in the 1840s ties into part of Michelson’s argument that Huck Finn, which is set around 1840, voices Twain’s struggle with the other parties who give life to literature.

State of the Field for American Studies/19th C American Lit

By: Michael Druffel

I want to learn more about American Studies and 19th century American literature. I’m particularly interested in history as it relates to literature. I like learning about the political, social, and economic forces that shape our nation’s writing.

I hope this project will teach me more about the dominant kinds of criticism in American Studies right now.


  • J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists

J19 is a new journal that is published twice a year by the University of Pennsylvania Press. It started in Spring 2013. Its bio on Project Muse indicates that it publishes research and analysis on the long 19th century (1783-1914). The articles I’ve read in J19 have a wide range of subjects. Sometimes articles try to link 19th century literature to hot button issues today (eg: the Occupy Wall St movement). Often the articles focus on the way literature navigates religion, race, and gender in the long 19th. [After reading a little of ALH’s bio, I realize I haven’t seen any reviews in J19]

  • American Literary History

ALH is published by the Oxford University Press four times a year. My understanding is that this is one of the premier journals of American literature. While it is not listed as exclusively about the 19th century, it often seems to have a number of articles each issue dealing with 19th century topics. The website bio states that ALH combines essays, reviews, and unpublished poems, letters, diaries, &c. Certainly, it appears reviews make up a large portion of the pages. ALH also seems to try to touch on current issues when possible: for e.g.: when 12 Years a Slave came out, ALH had several thoughtful articles dealing with the movie, the book, and more.

  • American Quarterly

Published by the John Hopkins University Press, American Quarterly seems to be one of the (if not the) marquee journals about American Studies. It comes out four times a year and features reviews and articles. The journal bio boasts that it has been published since 1949 and is the official publication of the American Studies Association. It features articles on politics, literature, cultural studies, and critical university studies. AQ also publishes the ASA president’s address. These addresses are often thoughtful speeches that tend to deal with current issues: debt, organizing, &c. The presidents’ speeches tend to set the focus for the ASA that year. While I do not know the politics of the other journals, I know AQ, representing the ASA, supports the Palestinian BDS movement.


  • Re-framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies, Winifred Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowed, eds. Dartmouth College Press, 2011.

I know this books is three years old, not two as the cut off suggested, however, I wanted to include it because I read some of Pease’s work for my class with Eric Lott called “Formations of US Cultural Studies.” Since I know Pease is a big name in the discipline currently (I understand he’s particularly well regarded as a critic of the discipline itself) I wanted to include his relatively recent book in my list.

The three books I’ve chosen to highlight in this post all feature the “transnational turn” in American Studies. Therefore, some of the comments could apply to any of the titles I’ve chosen. I’ll try not to be repetitive while giving an understanding of how I see the field right now. (To be methodologically transparent, I got all three titles of books from the reviews in the above-mentioned journals. I figure if these are some of the best journals, they’ll have insight on the most influential books.)

The review of Re-framing the Transnational Turn I read in ALH suggests that book discusses a turn in the discipline coinciding with the end of the “American Century.” As Pease has repeatedly pointed out, American Studies in the past have often helped further the aim of American Exceptionalism. Looking at this book, it seems that American Studies are (is?) now interested in correcting that deeply flawed view of Exceptionalism by balancing that view with a dose of transnationalism.

This could be riffing too far off the topic, but I detect in the books I’ve chosen and the ASA articles I’ve read a note of meta-criticism about the field itself. I think that this meta-criticism is part of the same zeitgeist that drives our often-stimulating discussions in our own class: how can we make up for the academic shortcomings of the past? I think right now the field of AS is deeply (and rightly) interested in that problem.

  • The Imaginary and Its Worlds: American Studies After the Transnational Turn. Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar, and Johannes Voelz, eds. Dartmouth College Press, 2013. 

This text seems awfully similar to the above text based on the review I’ve read. To avoid repetition let me touch on a few different points than those above. Yes, this book is rightly critical of past goals of AS; yes it is published by Dartmouth College Press, which suggests that DCP is interested in self-critical, exciting books about AS; yes it tries to remedy past shortcomings of AS with a transnational turn.

Where I’d like add new information is here: the review suggests that both of these books don’t look to new technology to as a way to grapple with the failings of past AS works to deal with a large section of American thought (namely the thought of non-straight, non-white, non-All-American, non-males). Interestingly, the review suggests that the absence of tech discussion could come from the fact that it takes academic books so long to publish, which is certainly good to know moving on as person who hopes to publish.

The fact that “new technologies” is mentioned in the review, I think, shows that they (the tech) are important, but are not yet integrated into the field of American Studies. I think this is useful to know about the field as I move further into it.

  • Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality, and the Cultures of Greater Mexico. José David Saldívar. Duke University Press, 2012.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this book examines the transnational in relation to America. This seems the way AS is going from all the sources I’ve found, and, frankly, that sounds exciting and great.

This book picks up transnational ideas and applies them to Mexico. According to the review, the book suggests that only transnational methodologies can help understand how cultural, political, &c practices form in greater Mexico. While not part of this particular project, the review I read points out that Saldivar makes use of Amy Kaplan’s essays in his book, Trans-Americanity. Kaplan’s writing has appeared frequently in Professor Lott’s class and so I feel that she is also an important name to keep in mind.

Annual Conferences

  • American Studies Association Annual Meeting. This year’s is:

The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain In the Post-American Century, November 6-9, 2014: Westin Bonaventure, Los Angeles, CA. The topic is, I believe, decided on by each year’s president, and informs the ASA’s goals that year, and to a large part, I imagine but do not know for sure (so please consider this more of a speculation awaiting confirmation), dictates the kind of work published in AQ. The conference seems a place to hear papers given by top scholars, present awards, make friends, and share ideas. It seems to be hugely influential on the work done in AS each year.

  • Hannah Arendt Fall Conference

This may be kind of a stretch, but I’d like to include it because I think it shows the range of the topics AS covers and the forums available to discuss them. I know about this conference because CUNY GC’s own Joan Richardson, who teaches my American Aesthetics course, was a speaker here. The topic of this year’s conference was “The Unmaking of Americans: Are American Values Still Worth Fighting For?”

Like just about everything else I’ve included in this list on the state of the field, the conference offers an introspective, critical glance at the way America has been studied and presented. While the questions posed in the conference may not seem to be as decidedly opposed to American Exceptionalsim as perhaps some of the other entries here are, the conference still shows that breaking down Exceptionalism is a hot button issue that is being thoughtfully debated by reasonable people, outside of the English department as well. It also shows that not all are onboard with rejecting America’s long-held exceptional status. While things seem to be trending that way, it feels like there may still be some holdouts.

  • International Melville Conference

This is not strictly AS, but I have a strong interest in 19th century American Literature. In fact, I really want to explore the intersection between 19th century American letters and AS. Melville is one of my favorite writers: my undergrad thesis was written about Moby-Dick. Thus, I think this is a conference that holds particular interest for me. This year it is in Japan and the topic is “Melville in a Global Context.” It’s not only AS that is trending towards the global. That is the trend in 19th century lit as well, and Melville seems an easy writer to examine w/ a global perspective.

University Press Series

  • America in the World Series. Sven Beckert and Jeremy Suri, series eds. Princeton University Press.

Going off what was written above, I’m just going to let the online description speak for itself with some underlining by me:

“American history is no longer the history of the nation-state alone. Instead of segregating the history of North America from the rest of the world, some of the newest and most exciting writing integrates America in the world. This movement toward transnational perspectives is taking shape across time periods, methodological preferences, and fields of analysis. American historians will continue to examine the “exceptional” elements of the nation’s history, and they will continue to produce local studies. Within the next decade, however, even the most locally centered and “exceptionalist” scholarship will be much more informed by attention to networks, identities, and processes that transcend the nation-state.

This series will bring together the work of a new generation of scholars writing the history of “global America.” There is a palpable sense of excitement about such a new perspective. Indeed, the most forward-looking scholars have already begun to broaden the geographical and conceptual range of analysis for many diverse themes in American history–including such classic topics as the American Revolution, slavery, abolitionism, Reconstruction, labor activism, the destruction of Native American societies, Progressivism, the Civil Rights Movement, and Cold War politics.”

I’d like to hazard a guess: Princeton is a little conservative, since Dartmouth College Press’s Don Pease has already torn up the idea of exceptionalism elsewhere. Princeton seems to still have some tiny place for it. However, if I’m right, even a slightly conservative press is turning to transnational work.

  • Re-Mapping the Transnational: A Dartmouth Series in American Studies. Don Pease, series ed. Dartmouth College University Press.

Don Pease. who criticizes American exceptionalism, also edits this series. This tells me that Dartmouth is interested in producing transnational works that speak to a Post-Cold War world. I’m not sure I have much to say that won’t sound broken-record-ish.

  • New Americanists Series. Donald Pease, series ed. Duke University Press.

I chose this series because Elizabeth Dillon (who is at CUNY) had her book published here. We read part of the book in Eric Lott’s Formations of US Cultural Studies class. Therefore, I know the book is being used and well regarded in the academy. I’m not even going to touch on DP except to say this: he edits this series as well, and I have now realized he is a major player in the formation of AS today. Other than that, I can note the transnational focus this series takes and note that Dillon’s book is well written and thoughtful.

Speaker Series

  • Eric Schocket Lecture Series, Hampshire College

To be methodologically transparent, I used a google search to find speakers I’d be interested in hearing. I found this series, which focuses, according to its bio, on class and culture, two subjects I’m interested in w/r/t AS. The names I recognized as speaking as part of this series were Michael Denning, and our own Eric Lott.

  • Sternberg Family Lecture in Public Scholarship, City College of New York

Perhaps this one is cheating, as it seems to be a yearly lecture and not strictly AS. However, I’d like to include because I think it shows the range of AS right now, and reinforces a point I made earlier that AS is incorporating some critical university studies. So far there has only been one speaker, Andrew Delbanco, whose biography of Melville I admire very much. Delbanco’s talk was titled “Do American Colleges Have a Future.” In it he discussed issues of access to college, ethics, opportunity, &c. Perhaps as I research in AS it is good to keep an eye on turning that research explicitly back on the discipline asking: “how does this new work I’ve found or done help us become better teachers/make the discipline better?” It seems to be the way AS is trending.

  • CUNY Graduate Center’s Critical Theory Today Lecture Series

Again, this might be cheating. However, I’ve read Slavoj Zizek & Fredric Jameson in my US Cultural Studies class and so I feel somewhat secure in saying that this series could help me understand the field. Plus I wanted to include a series that I could attend, and since this one is here at the GC, that seems no problem.

  • Huntington Library Lecture Series

Feeling that perhaps some of the other lecture series I put forth were weak or strayed too far from my topic, I’d like to add this one as well, which features lectures on topics that fit right into the AS wheelhouse including: the Roger’s Distinguished Fellow’s Lecture in Nineteenth-Century American History; the Ritchie Distinguished Fellow’s Lecture in Early American History; the Los Angeles Times Distinguished Fellow’s Lecture in American Studies. The Huntington Library, which is in Pasadena, hosts these fellows to do research and gives pretty sizeable awards. Seeing what kind of research these scholars are doing could give me an insight into what kind of work gets funded today.


  • NYPL’s Blog

The NYPL blog is easily found on a google search and offers browsing by subject. It’s cool because each post seems to center on a topic (e.g.: Moby-Dick’s birthday, which was yesterday in Britain). That post then offers what NYPL has in the collection, highlighting unique material. This could be a great way to get a dip into the massive collections at the good old Schwartzman building.

  • Verso, the Blog of the Huntington Library

Riffing off the above blog, I thought it to include the Huntington’s blog. Aside from being home to a beautiful series of gardens and art museum, the Huntington has a great library full of rare books, not unlike our own NYPL. The blog combines art history, history, literature, and botany to give interesting takes on what’s going on at the Huntington.

  • ASA Blog

I feel like I’ve said enough about the ASA as one of the main players in American Studies.

Scholar’s Twitter Accounts

  • I’d like to single out David Reynolds’s twitter, @reysn1
  • Finally, I’d like to shine a spotlight on Michael Berube, @MichaelBerube1, who is an interesting, reflexive critic of American Studies. Berube also has a blog where he discusses politics, cultural studies, and disabilities.

Institutional Twitter Accounts

  • @CUNYenglish seems like it could actually be really helpful. It has links to events happening around the campus.
  • @MLAnews seems like another professional development account. It offers links to MLA references and potential job stuff.
  • @NortonCriticals is the twitter account for the Norton Critical Editions. I know that established scholars use it as a way to publicize their work when editing a Norton. It also seems good to keep a finger on the pulse of what Norton thinks is good.

Graduate Course Descriptions

  • Here’s a graduate course description from Yale, Engl 846, American Literature: Regions, Hemispheres, Oceans:

“How does the choice of scale affect our understanding of American literature: its histories, its webs of relations, the varieties of genres that make up its landscape? Through three interlocking prisms regional, hemispheric, and oceanic we explore multiple permutations of immediate and extended environments; the size of events; causal connections and input networks; and the changing patterns of labor, food distribution, linguistic practice, religion, and war. Fiction and poetry by Olaudah Equiano, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Bowles, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Dave Eggers, Monique Truong, Junot D az, Amitav Ghosh; and theoretical writings by Sheldon Pollock, Arjun Appadurai, Franco Moretti, Pascale Casanova, and Walter Mignolo.”

This course is not a period course as the authors pulled span many decades. It addresses the issue of scale, which seems interesting. One thing I note is that global perspectives are not mentioned, even though some of the language hints that way e.g.: scale, oceans, hemispheric, &c

  • Here’s another graduate course description from the University of Michigan. I picked it because it seems different and exciting and is one more way to take the future of American Studies and my own classroom. The course is Native American Literature, and I couldn’t find a course number:

“In addition to traditional “oral literature,” Native Americans have been producing written literature in English since the late eighteenth century. The purpose of this seminar is to survey that heritage and, in so doing, examine the contours of Native American cultural and political history. We will also engage the most important discourses in today’s Native American studies, including settler colonialism, tribal nationalism, global indigenism, and cosmopolitanism. Authors will include William Apess, Zitkala Sa, D’Arcy McNickle, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and more. No previous knowledge of Native American studies is required.”

  • Finally, I’d like to offer CUNY’s own Joan Richardson, whose course ENGL 80200, has this course description:

“As the great Indian monk and teacher Vivekananda points out in Practical Vedanta: Lectures on Jnana Yoga—a text William James knew and valued—most of our differences as human beings “are merely differences of language.” (James brought Vivekananda to Harvard to lecture in 1896, introducing him as “an honor to humanity.”) Pragmatism is above all a method for making adjustments for these differences, for measuring our words, we could say. Charles Sanders Peirce, the framer of American pragmatism, learned how to make ideas clear by adapting the methods of adjusting for parallax, of accounting for the aberrations of starlight and irregularities in earth’s orbit, to how we use words. He established the field of semiotics, a truly native American sign-language, as it were. His aspiration continued the Romantics’ project to devise a use of language that might repair the consequences of the Fall. Peirce and James had taken deeply to heart and mind Emerson’ s brilliant summation of where we find ourselves in relation to language, a condition painfully exacerbated by the Darwinian information: “It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made, that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever afterwards, we suspect our instruments.” This observation is at the core of Emerson’s most unsettling essay, “Experience,” an offering that performs the revelation of experience—which shares its root with peril and experiment—as risk, adventure, as projective attitude and activity appropriate to inhabiting a universe of chance. William James repeatedly reminds us that we each have a stake in what the future is to be:

the idea of a world growing not integrally but piecemeal by the contributions of its several parts…offer[ing]…the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety…is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done.

The “co-operative work,” of course, depends on finding a method of not misreading one another’s signals as we shape language to imagine a future, knowing, as Wallace Stevens beautifully put it, that “the imperfect is our paradise.”

William James’s Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) will be at the center of our discussion throughout the term; we will read its eight lectures very slowly and deliberately. Around them will radiate other texts: some of those from which they grew and some of those growing from them—“…our knowledge grows in spots [James’s emphasis]. The spots may be large or small, but the knowledge never grows all over: some old knowledge always remains what it was.” Primary in this radiant circle will be excerpts from Jonathan Edwards, Emerson, C. S. Peirce, Wallace Stevens—the usual suspects, in other words. Secondary readings will include some of my own work and great surprises!

A term paper/project will be required. – See more at:”

Applying “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” to Our Classrooms

One of the introductions to Pedagogy of the Oppressed contains the line “certainly it would be absurd to claim that it [Freire’s method of teaching illiterates] should be copied here [21st century America]” (33). Obviously that’s true, but as Richard Shaull, the writer of this introduction, goes onto say there are still some similarities between Freire’s situation and ours. Like Shaull, I believe that a lot of Freire’s ideas could be very valuable to us (even in New York City) in our role as both educators and students. I would like to think about what Freire can tell us about our role as educators, but mostly I’d like ask a lot of questions I had while reading. (Perhaps that I’m distinguishing between a role as educator and a role a student shows that I haven’t really internalized [come to grips with?] Freire’s ideas yet.)

I’ve never stepped foot into a college classroom as a teacher yet, but Freire is so persuasive I’d like to incorporate much of his thinking into my class. But I’m not sure how to apply it! I’d like to start out with an issue that’s very basic to Freire’s thinking: that some people (probably very many people) are oppressed. Freire writes of the oppressed that “because of their identification with the oppressor, they have no consciousness of themselves as persons or as members of an oppressed class” (46). My first question is: how do we as CUNY teachers help people realize that they are oppressed? I know that sounds very nasty. No one wants to realize he is oppressed. I’m sure it is very painful to learn. But, if I understand Freire correctly, in order to change the existing order of oppressors and oppressed then the oppressed need to realize their oppression. After all, how can we change something if we’re not aware of it?

Freire, very wisely in my view, goes on to write “Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness” (47). I believe this to mean that merely telling the students “You’re oppressed” would be prescriptive, and not very good for anyone. It would be no different from the banking model of education: dumping information into docile students’ heads. But how does a person in authority (who, in my case, happens to be white, straight, male, if not Catholic then the son of lapsed Catholics, and bearded, which I understand is often unconsciously registered a symbol of authority, albeit a very stylish symbol) begin the process of addressing oppression in class? I’m aware that a poorly worded phrase from me can sound an awful lot like oppression, rather than what I hope is a productive, honest discussion about the social landscape. Beside potential outrage at an ill formed turn of phrase by me, I’m concerned with two other negative results: 1) that a student would feel hurt or in pain to learn that he is considered oppressed; and 2) that when beginning a dialogue about sensitive issues of oppression in class, two or more students could begin trading nasty remarks.

I understand that the second scenario is not unlikely. Having talked to some upperclass-people who have taught before I’ve heard stories of students accusing each other of either being oppressive pigs or lazy, charity cases &c. While I want to foster open and honest  dialogue, I want the classroom to feel safe. I don’t want students fearing that in class they will be rudely awakened to learn they are oppressed or that they will be derided by their classmates. My big question is how do we construct a classroom that fosters honest, productive dialogue that feels safe for students? Should I look for texts that might naturally raise questions of oppression? If so does anyone have suggestions? Should I use some kind of collaborative project to get students talking about oppression? If so what kind?

Of course, if I bring up issues of oppression in class I want remember Freire’s later warning “This accusation [that banking education makes students more docile] is not made in the naive hope that the dominant elites will thereby simply abandon the practice. Its objective is to call the attention of true humanists to the fact that they cannot use banking educational methods in the pursuit of liberation, for they would only negate that very pursuit (76).” Again, if I understand Freire correctly, it’s not helpful to simply tell students what to think, even if what we want them to think is good old leftist viewpoints. So how do I bring up the issue without hurting anyone?

I do have other questions about how to apply what I understand Freire to say. I’m curious what Freire means by “problem-posing” education. Does that mean what I’ve been taught is the Socratic method? That’s my guess, but I’m curious to know what others think. I’m also curious how the “problem-posing” method positions the teacher and the student. If I’m asking questions of the students to elicit knowledge from my students, where do I get my authority from? I’d like to believe (and this could be pure vanity) that after 5 years of English study I will have some knowledge to give. How does that fit into my relation with the students? Even more specifically, if I am a Socratic interlocutor, how do I introduce myself to my students? Socrates introduced himself by saying that he knew nothing. I’m not sure if that approach would work with students paying to attend CUNY. How do current teachers introduce themselves to students and explain the student-teacher relationship?

Please NB: I haven’t quite finished the 4th chapter of Freire, but even if he addresses some of these issues in the last pages, I’d be curious to hear other opinions as well.