CFP: UCSB Early Modern Center Annual Conference

Play’s the Thing: Phenomenology and Play in Early Modern Literature, 1500-1800
University of California, Santa Barbara
Conference Date: March 4-5, 2016
Proposal Due Date: December 4, 2015

The Early Modern Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara invites proposals for our annual conference, “Play’s the Thing: Phenomenology and Play in Early Modern Literature, 1500-1800,” to be held on March 4 and 5, 2016. We are happy to announce our three keynote speakers: Laura Engel (Duquesne University), James A. Knapp (Loyola University Chicago), and Bruce Smith (University of Southern California).

In his Essais, Montaigne suggests that “Childrens playes are not sportes, and should be deemed as their most serious actions” (Florio translation, 1603). Three hundred years later, Sigmund Freud maintains that “it would be wrong to think” that a child at play does not take his imagined “world seriously . . . The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real” (“Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming,” 1907). We are seeking papers that take up notions of play (broadly construed) in early modern literature from a phenomenological perspective: how can we understand play as lived experience or lived experience as play in early modern texts? Taking our cue from recent scholarly developments in historical phenomenology and in the study of affect, emotion, cognition, and design, we are looking for papers that attend seriously to play in various early modern manifestations. If play and seriousness are conjoined, as Montaigne and Freud write, what serious work does play perform, and how do play and playfulness reflect, distort, shape or create the realities they resist, enjoy, or inhabit?

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

the world of the imagination and “playing pretend”
imagined worlds and places of play
the experience of play / the relationship of experience to play
play, sensation, and the senses
acting and embodied play
affect and playing / playing a role
cognition and play
designing play / play’s designs on us
affordances and the conditions of possibility of play
empathy, sympathy, and projection
play and care / therapeutic play
playing with: community and the intersubjectivity of play
playing with oneself
laughter and joy
flirtation and amatory or erotic play
being a player (social / theatrical / political)
the politics of play / the play of politics
gaming, competing, sport
diversion and entertainment
hospitality and the play of entertaining
language and play / wordplay, punning, joking
animals, play, and animal play
play and discovery, emergence, disclosure
play, imitation, repetition (with a difference)
phenomenology and play in natural philosophy
counterfactual thinking and thought experiments
serious, earnest, or deep play
excluding play / what is excluded from play
play and crossing boundaries / play and taboo / taboo play
playing with / within disciplines, playing with periodization
playing with / within conferences and conference papers

We invite abstracts of 300 words or less and a 1-page CV to be sent to by December 4, 2015.

In the spirit of serious play, we also invite you to include a short description (outside of the 300-word limit) of how you envision this paper being delivered (short format, roundtable, artistic presentation, traditional conference format, exhibit, etc.).

Please feel free to contact the conference organizer, Kristen McCants, at with any questions you may have.

CFP: After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century

Following up on a highly successful CSECS panel, I’m organizing a one-day conference at UCSB on the same topic: the continuance of manuscript composition, publication, and circulation in the eighteenth century. I’m hoping for papers from a wide range of fields.

After Print:
Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century
UC Santa Barbara
April 24, 2015
Co-sponsored by the Mellon Fellowship in
Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School and
the UCSB Early Modern Center

This one-day conference at UCSB will bring together junior and senior scholars to explore the continued vitality of manuscript publication and circulation in the eighteenth century. Scholars now often take for granted that the eighteenth century constituted an established “print culture,” whether that culture was inherent in the technology or forged by its users. By the age of Addison and Pope, this narrative contends, the spread of print and lapse of licensing had rendered superfluous a manuscript world of scurrilous libels, courtly poetry, and weekly newsletters. But a growing body of research is arguing for the ongoing importance of manuscript production and publication into the Romantic period, and for a critical stance that questions the solidity of the print-manuscript binary. In texts from diaries and journals to notes, letters, sheet music, scientific observations, and hybrid multimedia documents, scholars are turning their attention to the manuscript traditions and innovations that were also central to eighteenth-century literature. And they are drawing connections to our own moment of protracted media shift, focusing on aggregative, iterative steps rather than a single “revolution.”

“After Print” will join this exciting subfield by exploring a range of manuscript practices in the long eighteenth century. Margaret Ezell, distinguished professor of English and Sara and John Lindsay Chair of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University—whose works Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (1999) and The Patriarch’s Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (1987) have been foundational to the field—will deliver the keynote lecture on Friday evening. Proposals are solicited for papers on any aspect of eighteenth-century studies related to the theme; in particular, proposals are welcomed from junior scholars (graduate students, postdocs, and untenured faculty) for a special panel on new methods. Limited travel support for junior scholars may be available.

Please send paper proposals by Dec. 15 to Rachael Scarborough King (Asst. Prof. of English, UCSB),

What happens to the un-notable letters?

The short profile in the New Yorker online of epistolary blog Letters of Note makes clear both the totemic status letters hold in our current media moment, and how aberrant an interesting standalone letter is. The blog features mainly celebrity letters and each one has to hold the reader’s interest (the most interesting have also now been collected into a book). The letter represents a form of communication thought to be dead or dying, re-vivified through both the Internet and the printed book.

Key quotes:

[Editor Shaun] Usher has an evident knack for selecting letters that land with the force of a good short story, with personalities and dramatic arcs emerging swiftly, from just a page or two. Many of the writers are famous people, caught in a moment of accessibility and rawness or off-the-cuff virtuosity.

The idea behind the Letters of Note project—that correspondence holds a rare communicative and aesthetic power—also happens to be well calibrated for the Internet. It hits on a juncture of Pinterest-style object nostalgia, an appetite for emotive but bite-size reading, and a mild voyeurism.

Usher points out the irony that “the very service that’s going to kill off letter writing” is responsible for bringing these missives before so many eyes.

While Usher, and likely many of the blog’s readers, believe that handwritten letters offer a special form of communication separate from email (letters typed on a typewriter, another focus of “Pinterest-style object nostalgia,” constituting an in-between case), what the blog really shows is how much letter writing anticipates our current transitional moment. Usher combs through dozens of letters, and rejects many submissions, in order to find those that merit individual attention. Most letters were of the mundane, straightforward, and, in that way, revealing vein of our common email communications.

Mapping periodicals

At this year’s MLA in Chicago, I was part of a great panel on “Geospatial Literary Studies” organized by David Wrisley of the American University in Beirut. The “geospatial humanities”—digital humanities work that emphasizes place and geography—has been expanding in the past few years, and this panel was the first devoted to the subject at MLA. The panelists presented some fabulous projects, from mapping bookstores in nineteenth-century Manhattan to exploring the implications of the crowd-sourced maps used to track the spread of swine flu.

Despite the historical variety in the presentations, a common theme was the appropriateness of using contemporary maps to document historical places. Even when scholars georeference historical maps, the base reference is often Google Maps and the author tries to match up past places with where they “would” appear according to Google. In my own work with AcuGIS, I often run up against the problem that the software’s most basic base map still includes contemporary national boundaries—so that even as I use maps of epistolary networks to show the international nature of letter writing in the eighteenth century, the images in some ways reinforce borders. This problem is an effect of hacking AcuGIS, a program often used for engineering projects or climate change tracking, to use for historical purposes.

As geospatial work develops as a subfield of the digital humanities, though, scholars are starting to create tools incorporating historical and geographical information. For my online project mapping the locations of London periodical publishing, The Periodical World, I’m using Neatline, a plug-in for Omeka. Neatline doesn’t solve all the problems of GIS, but it doesn’t offer some options. It includes both a map and a timeline, so that points on a map can be associated with a date range. This means that scholars can integrate narrative into their maps in new ways. In my case, I’ve incorporated both a 1721 map of London and insets from a 1746 map to offer different views on how the streets have changed over time. Neatline provides an interactive experience, as users can move around the different locations for information, images, and references. I’m still expanding the site, but I’m hoping to turn it into a comprehensive source for information on the people and places of early eighteenth-century periodical publishing.

‘Speeding up the Ent-like conversation’

Among the many great points Ted Underwood makes in his recent blog response to Franco Moretti’s latest work, I wanted to flag his brief opening observation about the Internet’s effects on scholarly interaction. “If the Internet is good for anything,” he writes, “it’s good for speeding up the Ent-like conversation between articles, to make that rumble more perceptible by human ears.” Academics have been largely inured to the glacial pace with which scholarly work appears, thinking nothing of a book review published years after the initial book or an article “forthcoming” for the better part of a decade. The move to online scholarship may call into question this model even more than it does the process of peer review or the bias toward big-name presses. Indeed, this new understanding of scholarly interaction was immediately evident in responses to Underwood’s post: Alan Liu noted Underwood’s “[t]houghtful, substantial post … on measurement and modeling” and Tweeted a link. Underwood then engaged in multiple Twitter conversations about the post, and commenters on his blog, including Moretti, enriched the original contribution.

I hope that in the coming years this kind of engagement will be increasingly built into graduate programs, so that students are learning to blog and Tweet (and whatever the next platform is…) in order to express themselves as members of a scholarly community. It’s one of the reasons I’ve required students to keep a class Tumblr in each of my courses for the past few semesters: I want them to think about the publicly appealing aspects of the work they’re doing, and how they can transmit that work to an audience (slightly) larger than that of their individual instructor. If we’re having these vibrant, engaged conversations out in the open, maybe we won’t have to work so hard to prove the value of the (digital) humanities to those outside the academy. As Underwood notes of Moretti’s writing style (and, I would add, that of the Literary Lab pamphlets in general), one of its strengths is “a willingness to dramatize his own learning process.” The DH interest in methodology and epistemology is an ethos that can benefit the humanities in general.

The digital-manuscript Dickinson


The Emily Dickinson Archive is the latest digital humanities project featured in The New York Times, and the latest to offer a more intimate connection with an author through images of letters, manuscripts, and other examples of handwriting. The site performs an incredible service in breaking down the institutional barriers between archives that can stymie scholarly investigation; the Times article details some infighting among the participating libraries, but they seem to have been resolved. Dickinson is perhaps the paradigmatic example of an author whose work can only be understood in relation to the material constraints of pen and paper, some of which were imposed on her and some of which she imposed on herself. Her famous “fascicles,” small booklets she cut and sewed together, were the material counterpart to her condensed, elliptical lines; the archive shows that she also scribbled wherever possible, on envelopes, letters, books, and scraps of paper. In both form and content, her poetry was idiosyncratic and, in a way, unreproducible.

But while Dickinson was paradigmatic, she was not sui generis, at least in her creative use of manuscript for literary production. Many authors in the nineteenth century continued to rely on manuscript to create and circulate their works, and the kinds of paper to which they had access influenced their output. In the next volume of Book History I discuss the work of Elizabeth Grant, a little-known Scottish memoirist whose writings were not published during her lifetime. Grant used precut letter paper to create fascicle-like booklets, and because of this, I believe, her work took on significant epistolary qualities. While the Emily Dickinson Archive provides an invaluable scholarly resource, I worry that—by, in a sense, isolating this single author—it could make it more difficult to see such connections. And because these documents are now online, it might make it more complicated for scholars to obtain funding or even permission to see the “real” thing. These archives offer one form of access, which I’m sure will allow wonderful new work to be produced, but we should continue to think carefully about the role of the archive, and the relationship between the digital and the material, as more and more research moves online.

Image at top: Amherst Manuscript #514, “We talked with each other about each other” written on a flattened envelope.