Victorian Literature + Culture
I’m finishing a book that traces two key formal features of the Victorian novel, narrative omniscience and free indirect discourse, back to their complex formation alongside in the social practices of Victorian reviewing; a piece of the argument is published here and a very early related article here. I am beginning a new project on the everyday research practices of Victorian novelists like Charles Reade, George Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy.
In our project “The Teaching Archive: A New History of Literary Study,” Laura Heffernan and I rewrite the history of English in the twentieth century from the perspective of the classroom, arguing that the everyday teaching practices of professors at a wide range of institutions have centrally contributed to the formation of literary study as we know it. Gathering the syllabi, course descriptions, lecture transcripts, discussion notes, graded assignments, handouts and research notebooks used by familiar and unfamiliar figures from a range of universities, colleges, and extensions schools, we recover a full picture of literary study in the twentieth century. Existing disciplinary histories of English tend to look to a few select institutions and to imagine that a narrow – and now neglected – set of formalist or humanist practices (like the New Critical close reading of an excellent poem) provide the deep foundation of all of our teaching. We’re interested in restoring the alternate modes of attention, evaluation, and research that form the tightly-knitted sinews connecting the more celebrated and studied aspects of the work of English to show that our discipline’s past has been more interested in thinking through the process and problem of canon formation through attending to all manner of texts than it has been committed to aesthetic appreciation or formalist exegesis of a handful of great works.
An article drawn from this project, “The Common Reader and the Archival Classroom,” appeared in New Literary History in Spring 2012 and a related article on “Interpretation, 1980 and 1880” appeared in Victorian Studies in 2013. An article on T.S. Eliot’s extension school teaching and its impact on The Sacred Wood is forthcoming in PMLA, and a related project using a mix of qualitative and computational methods to offer a more granular and wide-ranging view of actual close reading practices 1925-1960 is in progress. The first phase of this project was funded by an American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellowship.
Early Novels Database
Along with Jon Shaw I am Project Lead at the Early Novels Database, a metadata project designed to help researchers write new histories of the novel. You can follow us on Twitter or see what our student researchers are up to on Known.
Humanities Research Bibliometrics and Curricular Data
I’m interested in how we can use data drawn from the artifacts of humanities teaching and research to more fully reveal the complexity and richness of our past and present. I am involved with various projects researching hidden histories of collaborative humanities work, I spoke about historical syllabi at the Open Syllabus Project conference and hackaton, and at Swarthmore I am working on a set of projects that will help students learn to use course catalogs and other teaching documents to more creatively imagine the curricular worlds open to them.
Laura Heffernan and I are currently writing about an emerging genre that we name the “novel of commission.” Drawing on the revised account of the “reality effect” Roland Barthes elaborates in his Preparation of the Novel notebooks, our first article on the topic looks at how Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? pulls preparatory materials — emails, transcripts, and copyright information — into the novel in order to reimagine the sociality of writing and institutionality of realism after poststructuralism and metafiction.