Seminars

NAVSA Conference Seminars are now closed.

Deadline to register for seminars: September 30th

Deadline to submit 5-page position paper for seminars: October 15th

Participants also have the opportunity to sign up for topic-based seminars in which members pre-circulate five-page position papers for discussion. Each seminar will be led by an expert in the topic and participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis (limit of 15 presenters per seminar; registration begins May 1, 2011).

Seminars include:

*Note: NAVSA 2011 Conference participants will be permitted to be part of either a topic-based seminar or paper panel (not both).

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Seminar Descriptions

Storytelling in Victorian Art and Visual Culture

Morna O’Neill (Wake Forest University) & Pamela Fletcher (Bowdoin College)

This seminar will address new approaches to ideas of storytelling in relation to Victorian art and visual culture.  The very term “Victorian art” has long been associated with narrative painting – realist in style, didactic in intent and politically conservative.  While one strand of recent scholarship has sought to complicate the certainty of visual narratives, another has embraced a new formalism, suggesting that narrative should be subordinate to questions of form and material in any consideration of the work of art. To what extent, then, can we consider narrative (or even notions of subject matter) as a central concern in Victorian visual culture?  How might period concepts of playfulness and pleasure broaden our understanding of the abilities and limitations of the visual to tell a story?  Does the nature of the story, or its potential for play, change depending upon visual media or exhibition context? Does a reconsideration of narrative or story in painting raise attendant concerns in literary studies? To what extent are political narratives also subject to these concerns? This seminar welcomes papers with interdisciplinary perspectives.

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Performing Victorian Poetry

Yopie Prins (University of Michigan)

This seminar will consider why, how, when, and where Victorian poems have been performed in various cultural locations and historical settings: musical performances in the parlor, public house, music hall, and concert hall; dramatic enactments on stage, in dance, in opera, in theatrical extravaganzas and other popular spectacles; oral recitation in private and in public, and through various recording technologies; recreations in cinema, video, youtube, and other new media.  Each participant will present a 5-page paper that includes a specific historical example and some theoretical reflections for discussion about the circulation of Victorian poetry in performance, in the nineteenth century and beyond.

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The Dark Side of Play

Matthew Kaiser (Harvard)

From Schiller to Bateson, from Derrida to Bakhtin, theorists often associate the concept of play with freedom and ironic subversion, with metacritical possibility and epistemological subtlety, with the ability to evade methodological rigidity, one-dimensionality, and earnestness. When it comes to play (or performativity, for that matter), the question must be asked: Are we guilty of sentimentality? Are we too quick to grant the ludic (and all of its conceptual cousins) the power to solve our problems? This seminar invites participants to contribute five-page papers that explore the various ways in which the Victorians confronted the “dark side of play,” its unsettling, problematic, even suffocating, aspects: the ideological connection, for instance, between play and Victorian notions of modernity, global capitalism, scientific discovery, middle-class normalization, etc. How did Victorian writers, thinkers, and everyday people complicate Enlightenment and Romantic play paradigms? How did the Victorians—a playful people, to be sure—grapple with the political and ethical limitations of play as a concept?

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Victorian Spectatorship

Tracy C. Davis (Northwestern University)

Victorian spectatorship may conjure up images of audiences at a play but what if this understanding is expanded in several ways?  What else occurred in the public realm — as spectacle, quotidian performance, or the mundane — where Victorians might also be said to spectate?  This seminar invites participants concerned with theatre as well as spectatorship in other artistic disciplines (such as music and fine art) and witnessing of other phenomena to reflect on spectatorship as a corporeal process, social act, structured ritual, or contingent event.  What kinds of subject positions could be inhabited at the theatre or elsewhere, constructed by gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, race, or class?  In what ways could spectatorship be agential or reciprocal, rather than passive?  Did this change over time? And for all such cases, how was the optical act of spectating augmented by the other senses so that to witness meant also to hear (and perhaps smell, taste, or touch)?

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Drama, Lost and Found

Sharon Marcus (Columbia University) & David Kurnick (Rutgers University)

This seminar is for anyone willing to think about why so few Victorianists read Victorian drama and curious about what might happen if we did.  We all know that most Victorian novelists went to the theater on a regular basis and often aspired to (or did) write plays.  Some of the most compelling work in Victorian literary studies (by Peter Brooks, Joseph Litvak, Elaine Hadley, Emily Allen, and others) has been about the relationship of the novel to theatricality and to theatrical modes such as melodrama.  Yet Victorian drama remains largely its own separate field; those who write about and teach Victorian literature may have read the scholarship of Michael Booth, Tracy Davis, Jacky Bratton, Jim Davis, Ellen Donkin, and others, but few of us read or teach Victorian plays on a regular basis.

There are some good reasons for this, but few of them square with our commonly professed theoretical principles.  Victorian plays are mostly quite bad — but since when are we so committed to literary quality that it trumps cultural significance?  Victorian plays were primarily adaptations from French works unprotected by copyright, so can’t really be said to be British or to have single authors — but hasn’t British studies become global, and haven’t we long been skeptical about the author function and its emphasis on autonomy rather than collaboration?  It’s impossible to grasp what Victorian theater was like simply by reading plays — but aren’t we interested in how culture exceeds the purely textual, and in performance as a cultural mode?  Victorian drama was understood even by Victorians as celebrity-driven and ephemeral—but shouldn’t the historicism that remains influential in our field make us interested in what was topical, sensational, and fleeting?

This seminar is an occasion to exchange ideas about reading — and not reading — Victorian drama.  The seminar leaders will present papers about our own work on drama, and we welcome position papers about performance, theatricality, entertainment, spectacle, and other dramatic concepts in Victorian novels, poetry, or essays.  We’d also welcome papers about particular plays; about theater reviewers and drama criticism; about what theoretical models drama demands (or what studying drama does to theories we already use); about drama in relation to the history of the book; about Victorian theaters as spaces and Victorian drama as a genre; about celebrity; about teaching drama; and about whether reading plays suggests different versions of “the Victorian” than we currently employ.  If you’d like to write about why you don’t read and teach drama, that would also be welcome.

Finally, to give us all some common ground, we ask that you read George L. Aiken’s 1852 version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin before we meet (and discover one of the joys of Victorian plays: unlike Middlemarch, they can be read in a couple of hours). We’ve chosen this text because of the ways it focuses some of the questions raised above: as an undeniably central artifact of Victorian culture that most Victorianists have not read, as one of many adaptations of a novel, as an American product that found a hugely enthusiastic British audience, and as an aesthetic object better known for a few iconic scenes than for its author or its linguistic or formal inventiveness, Uncle Tom’s Cabin should help us start thinking about the ways Victorian drama forces us to think (or stop thinking) about authors, nations, cultures, literary authority, politics, performance, and reading.

The 1852 text is available via UVA’s website on Uncle Tom’s Cabin:
<http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/onstage/scripts/aikenhp.html>.

The format is a bit unwieldy, so we will be making the text available to seminar registrants in a PDF version as well. The UVA website is a terrific source of information on the novel and its multiple adaptations and also includes, among other resources, many alternate versions of the play.

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State Performance and International Play

Lara Kriegel (Indiana University)

This seminar invites papers that use the frameworks of performance and play to understand Britain’s global nineteenth century, and particularly episodes in empire, diplomacy, and war.  Under the rubric of performance, papers might examine rituals and ceremonies concerned with celebrating the state, recognizing heroism, and conferring authority.  Contributions might consider diplomacy as an individual or national performance.  They could also take up the matter of failed performances, whether on the battlefield or at the negotiating table.  Contributions to this seminar could also exploit the manifold meanings of play in the global arena—for example, “The Great Game” in Central Asia.  They might consider boy’s adventure stories, the lost world, or muscular Christianity as responses to imperialism.  Finally, contributors could take up the very folly of empire and war.  In sum, the goal here will be to expand simultaneously in two directions — to enhance our understandings of empire, war, and diplomacy on the one hand, while also experimenting with the concepts of performance and play in historical context, on the other.  Papers that deal with fiction, drama, poetry, art, journalism, and archival sources are all welcome.

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Sociology, the Novel, and Everyday Life

Heather Love (University of Pennsylvania) & Gage McWeeny (Williams College)

What can sociological method bring to our study of the Victorian novel? Is the novel itself a sociological form?  This seminar will consider exchanges as well as productive frictions between sociology and literary studies with a focus on the history of the novel and the representation of everyday life.  In the spirit of this year’s NAVSA theme, we will take up the relation of everyday life, intimacy, and performance through sociology—the work of Erving Goffman, for example—attending to the games or rituals of social life and to the presentation of self in the realist novel.  More broadly, we also invite reflections on the social location of the novel, genres of realism and naturalism, accounts of production, distribution, and reception, histories of reading, publics, quantitative methods in literary studies, Victorian social science, and the broader questions of scale, whether micro or macro, sociology tends to raise.

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Transatlanticism Today

Daniel Hack (University of Michigan)

The kinds of questions I hope we’ll address include: What kinds of transatlantic work are Victorianists engaged in today, as scholars and as teachers? What impact are transatlantic approaches having on how we read and teach Victorian literature, or on the category of “Victorian literature” itself? How does transatlanticism intersect with other current Victorianist trends and topics, from print-culture studies to historical poetics to the new formalism to “the way we read now”? Should dissertation directors let their students grow up to be transatlanticists? Does transatlanticism have a future?

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