The Second Book Project (Fall 2019)

Lucy Ellis Lounge, 1080 Foreign Language Building

Friday, October 25, 2019, 9:30am-4:30pm

After transforming their dissertations into a first book, many professors turn to a second book project to extend their interest in their field of research and even to clarify their career aims. The Second Book Project is a symposium bringing together the ongoing research projects of several distinguished scholars of American literature.  Our participants will be discussing their books-in-progress, especially their premises and critical purposes.  Each of these scholars has written a very successful first book about American literary history, and each is engaged in a new rich, venturesome study. They will further describe the impact they hope for their books to make, the scholarly need or opportunity they see themselves addressing, and how they expect their books to contribute to the various ongoing debates of which they will be a part.  By circulating their ideas in this way, the symposiasts are also inviting further discussion of their projects and are especially interested in the audience’s engagement with their arguments.  Each speaker will talk for about thirty minutes, after which the other panelists and audience members will have a chance to exchange ideas and raise questions.



Gordon Hutner, at 9:30: Welcome

Lisa Mendelman (Menlo College), at 9:45: Diagnosing America: Mental Health and Modern Fiction, 1890-1940”

This project examines the reciprocity between fictional representations of consciousness and corporeality and medical models of mental health. Focused on psychopathology in the first half of the twentieth century, the study explores how narrative form unsettles clinical definitions of illness. Each chapter considers an emergent psychiatric diagnosis and examines this model of personhood in period fiction as well as scientific writing. My archive includes analyses of the psychosocial history of “ambivalence” and its gendered contradictions (Wharton and Fitzgerald) and profiles of racialized addiction in Harlem Renaissance-era literature and science in Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) and early genetic theory. Other chapters examine turn-of-the-century eating disorders and narcissism and neoimperialism in the 1930s and 40s. Engaging recent debates in the medical humanities and ongoing studies of gender, race, and disability, this project rethinks the cultural politics at work in biological schemas of health and illness, while highlighting the vexations of interpretive practices shared by the sciences and the arts.


Joseph Rezek (Boston University), at 10:30: “The Racialization of Print”

This book will tell a new story about the history of race and the history of print before the twentieth century. When, where, and how, did modern racism first change the meaning of print? How did shifting ideologies of racial hierarchy continue to shape the medium over time? I begin answering these questions with a transatlantic account of protest and struggle over the technology of print in the anglophone world.  That story originates in the sixteenth century, with the spread of printing in Europe and the emergence of modern racial categories, and ends in the nineteenth century, with the industrialization of print and the codification of scientific racism. The project hinges on the Age of Revolution, during which hardening notions of racial and national difference gave rise to the modern ideology that printed objects are capable of representing the essential nature of an entire race of people. These shifting developments are perhaps best understood through the radical publications and protests of early African and Native American writers, beginning with Phillis Wheatley and Samson Occom. Drawing from the mutually entangled archives and historiographies of race and print, my study aims to open up new questions about the racialized media landscape we inhabit today.


John Alba Cutler (Northwestern University), at 2:00: Latinx Modernism and the Spirit of Latinoamericanismo”

Spanish-language periodicals were the most important literary institutions for US Latinx communities in the early twentieth century, and the thousands of literary texts they published constitute an important, long-neglected archive of Latinx modernism. The circulation of Latin American writers alongside original work by US Latinos constitutes one of the most important features of this Latinx modernist archive. This print culture proximity happens at the emergence of what scholars have designated as the discourse of Latinoamericanismo (Latin Americanism), a critique of US modernization and imperialism that depends on celebrating Latin America’s aesthetic and spiritual refinement as a contrast. Latinx modernism both engages and transforms Latinoamericanismo, amplifying its critique of the United States while resisting its often-elitist rendering of Latin American cultural politics.


Monique Allewaert (University of Wisconsin-Madison), at 3:00: “Luminescence: Insect Knowledges, Power, and the Literary: 1705-1814”

Insects posed major problems in eighteenth-century American plantation colonies. Most obviously, they threatened the plantation crops that powered European capitalist expansion even as they contributed significantly to colonial health problems. My book shows, however, that the insects of American plantation colonies were also a problem for knowledge. Through eight chapters, I explore how colonial bugs, from beetles to fireflies to booklice to worms, both challenged and shaped colonial knowledge production, giving rise to an episteme (system of knowledge) that I call “insect luminescence.” I focus on how interactions with colonial insects inflected indigenous, diasporic African, and Anglo-European knowledge work ranging from the production of literary artifacts (poems, stories, natural history, “fetishes”) to theories of in/justice to ideas about health. In particular, insect luminescence illuminates tensions and unlikely alliances between colonial and subaltern understandings of context, semiotics (signs that mean something to someone), and aesthetics. It also sheds new light on the deployments of these forms of knowledge to bolster and undermine the plantation system.


Discussion, at 4:00

Posted in Past Americanist Events, Past Trowbridge Events