Friday, June 8, 2023, 2pm: Günter Leypoldt (Heidelberg): “Literary Networks and the Laureate Position in the Long Nineteenth Century”, Université Paris Cité, Olympe de Gouges building, room 830 / Zoom

“Literary Networks and the Laureate Position in the Long Nineteenth Century”

This lecture looks at literary prestige from the perspective of a new theory of value. It argues that today’s system of literary prizes has evolved from an older socio-institutional formation that I will call the “laureate position” in cultural space. The first part will explore how the laureate position turns literary artifacts into strong-valued “higher goods” (as opposed to, say, quotidian entertainment practices) that dominate the making of “literary heritage.” Relevant issues will be how laureate-oriented authorship connects to regimes of “vocation,” “singularity” and peer-review. The second part will look at how the making of literary prestige crystallizes long-standing tensions between the laureate position’s professional curators and the problem brokers of the civil sphere (the former concerned with defining literature as a higher good, the latter with civil-sacred notions of good democratic behavior or “moral decency”). Examples will be drawn from nineteenth-century debates on the status of the novel and what can count as capital-L-literature.

Günter Leypoldt is a Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and speaker of the Research Training Group “Authority and Trust in the US” at Heidelberg Center for American Studies. His present research interests include transatlantic Anglophone literature from 1800 to the present, cultural theory, book history, and the sociology of aesthetic experience and knowledge production. He is the author of Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective (2009), editor of Intellectual Authority and Literary Culture in the US, 1790-1900 (2013), and co-editor of American Cultural Icons (2010), Reading Practices (2015), and Authority and Trust in US Culture and Society (2021). His essays appeared in such journals as American Literary History, Modern Language Quarterly, New Literary History, American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Critical Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, and Post45.

Friday, March 17, 2023, 2pm, Pauline Pilote (UBS/HCTI), Wizard of the West: Walter Scott et le roman historique américain; 3pm, Tom Nurmi (NTNU, Trondheim): “Waylaying Light: Emily Dickinson and the Sun”, Université Paris Cité, ODG 830 /Zoom

Wizards of the West : Walter Scott et le roman historique américain

Bruno Monfort, Université Paris Nanterre, sera discutant.

Pendant la première moitié du XIXe siècle, le roman historique est un genre en plein essor, notamment dans le sillage de James Fenimore Cooper et de sa célèbre série des Leatherstocking Tales. Si beaucoup y ont vu l’acte de naissance de la littérature états-unienne, que viendrait consolider le « grand roman américain » des années 1850, le livre présenté ici cherche à décentrer cette lecture de l’histoire littéraire des États-Unis. Dès son titre, l’ouvrage assume un cadre transatlantique qui place l’écrivain écossais Walter Scott aux côtés de trois contemporains américains – James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving et Catharine Maria Sedgwick, tous trois reconnaissant un lien avec l’auteur britannique. Plutôt que de lire la « naissance » du roman américain comme l’expression littéraire d’un exceptionnalisme états-unien, ce travail cherche à montrer que ce dernier est à considérer à l’aune des échanges transatlantiques florissants qui subsistent tout au long du premier XIXe siècle, malgré l’Indépendance politique et malgré la rhétorique de rupture que met en avant l’ère jacksonienne.

En lisant ensemble des textes qui se répondent et reprennent les uns aux autres un certain nombre de traits, l’ouvrage, sorti en août 2022, étudie la composition d’un discours cohérent et rassembleur et la construction d’une mémoire collective. Cette présentation explorera la circulation de textes et de motifs dans l’espace atlantique et sur la scène littéraire américaine afin d’étudier le rôle du roman historique dans la construction de l’imaginaire collectif américain, tout en réfléchissant à la formation et à la diffusion du roman national dans un cadre transnational.



Tom Nurmi  (Norwegian University of Science and Technology [NTNU, Trondheim])  is the author of Magnificent Decay: Melville and Ecology (University of Virginia Press, 2020), “Melville’s Foams” (Oxford Companion of Herman Melville, 2022), “Mineral Melville” (J19, 7:1, 2019). He is currently working on a book titled “Uranium Cadillac: Energy and the Work of Comparative Literature.”

He will give a talk titled “Waylaying Light: Emily Dickinson and the Sun.”

In nearly two hundred of her poems, Emily Dickinson conjures imagery of the sun. Amid a period of new and proliferating ways of seeing – photographs, telescopes, electric street lamps – and her own declining vision, Dickinson’s suns illuminate a variety of nineteenth-century scientific and cultural discourses around energy and extinction. This talk explores Dickinson’s sun poems for their insights into the science of light, the work of creativity, and the helio-temporal underpinnings of what we might call a solar unconscious that structures our conceptions of the Anthropocene itself.


Friday, 10 February, 2pm, Jamie Fenton, “When Persons Become Supposed: Emily Dickinson and the American Civil War”

When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse — it does not mean — me — but a supposed person. Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, July 1862.

Emily Dickinson sent this cryptic statement to her mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, as the United States entered its second year of civil war. This paper aims to decode the statement, by paying special attention to that innocuous word ‘supposed’. What is a ‘supposed’ person? How does Dickinson go about supposing them? What lives do they live in verse? The paper will offer two routes through this problem. First it will investigate Dickinson’s interest in dramatic monologue. Her poems have attracted the label of lyric, but this is not a truth inherent, and we should be confident in pursuing their relationship with other modes. If a supposed person is something like a character, how far are Dickinson’s poems from those of her heroes, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? The second route is towards the Civil War. Dickinson wrote this letter to a Higginson away at war, where she feared he had become ‘impossible’. This part of the paper will argue that ‘supposing’ was a necessary talent for civilians waiting for news of combatant relatives or friends: with no guarantee of survival, soldiers had to be imagined alive. This kind of supposing found its way into Dickinson’s poems in the voices of soldiers. The paper will end by trying to draw the two routes together, proposing, via an encounter with Shakespeare, that Dickinson’s poems can be read as the monologues of impossible people.
Jamie Fenton began his education at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he completed a BA in English and MPhil in American Literature, before moving on to an AHRC-funded PhD at Pembroke College, Cambridge, which he finished in 2021. In early 2020, he held a Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. In 2021-2022, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at University College London. His research interest is American Literature, especially the literature of the American Civil War. He practices a historical-formalist mode of close reading, which aims to work out how style emerges from and then thinks about its political and cultural environment. His PhD investigated a series of Civil War poets, including Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Laura Redden, Emily Dickinson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. He has also written on Woody Guthrie, Henry David Thoreau, and the contemporary poet Erica Dawson.
Photograph of Jamie Fenton

Friday, January 27, 2pm, Todd Carmody, “Work Requirements: Literary Labour and Social Welfare”

Work Requirements

Throughout the history of the United States, work-based social welfare practices have served to affirm the moral value of work. In the late nineteenth century this representational project came to be mediated by the printed word with the emergence of industrial print technologies, the expansion of literacy, and the rise of professionalization. In Work Requirements (Duke UP, 2022), Todd Carmody asks how work, even the most debasing or unproductive labor, came to be seen as inherently meaningful during this era. He explores how the print culture of social welfare—produced by public administrators, by economic planners, by social scientists, and in literature and the arts—tasked people on the social and economic margins, specifically racial minorities, incarcerated people, and people with disabilities, with shoring up the fundamental dignity of work as such. He also outlines how disability itself became a tool of social discipline, defined by bureaucratized institutions as the inability to work. By interrogating the representational effort necessary to make work seem inherently meaningful, Carmody ultimately reveals a forgotten history of competing efforts to think social belonging beyond or even without work.

Todd Carmody is a writer, researcher, and strategy consultant in New York and a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute.

Friday, December 9, 2pm, Prof. Jennifer GREIMAN, Wake Forest University, “Unplanted to the last: Melville’s Democracy and the Poetics of Grass”

In a famous 1851 letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville describes his “ruthless democracy” as a principle of radical egalitarianism joined to a process of transience and transformation, which he figures through the cycle of grasses growing, going to seed, rooting, and growing again. From Pierre and Israel Potter in the 1850s to Clarel in the 1870s and Weeds and Wildings published a year before his 1891 death, Melville’s grasses become a key register of both the macro-politics and micro-politics of democracy across his work – a means of connecting the histories of war and settlement that transform the landscapes of upstate New York and western Massachusetts to the minutest forces of vegetable creativity and change. This talk will trace Melville’s grassy figures alongside the more famous poetic grasses of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to tease out the difference of Melville’s conception of democracy. While both Melville and Whitman develop experimental aesthetics from the adhesive powers of democratic sociality and the figurative bounty of grass, Whitman’s poetics and prose after the Civil War is explicitly committed to the question of how poetry might plant an enduring democratic union. Melville, by contrast, holds to the radical premise that democracy is unplantable – that is, it must be understood as groundless (in Jacques Rancière’s formulation), in part, because its most militant potential derives from a combination of human and non-human creativities (in William Connolly’s). 

Michael Jonik is Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Sussex. He will be her respondent.

Jennifer Greiman is Associate Professor of English at Wake Forest University and the associate editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies. She is the author of Melville’s Democracy: Radical Figuration and Political Form (forthcoming from Stanford University Press) and Democracy’s Spectacle: Sovereignty and Public Life in Antebellum American Writing (Fordham University Press, 2010) and the co-editor, with Paul Stasi, of The Last Western: Deadwood and the End of American Empire (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013). Her articles have appeared in The New Cambridge Companion to Herman MelvilleThe New Melville StudiesTimelines of American LiteratureJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-century Americanists, LeviathanREAL, and Textual Practice. Recently, in June 2022, Jennifer Greiman was keynote at the Melville’s Energies conference in Paris.

Friday, Nov. 18th, 2pm, Prof. Gordon Hutner (Univ. of Illinois), editor of American Literary History, “Publishing Nineteenth-Century American Literary History”

Gordon Hutner, Editor for American Literary History and the Oxford Studies in American Literary History book series, will give a talk entitled “Publishing Nineteenth-Century American Literary History.”

It is a unique opportunity for students, faculty, and lovers of US literature to hear about Gordon Hutner’s long experience in editing American literature. We hope to see you there.

J. Michelle COGHLAN (Manchester): “Devouring New England: the Matter of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s Culinary Regionalism”. Seminar “À Table!” (VALE/A19) / 10 November 2022, 5:30-7pm, Sorbonne Université, Bibliothèque de l’UFR d’études anglopohones

J. Michelle Coghlan is a Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Director of the Programme in American Studies at the University of Manchester, UK. She is the author of Sensational Internationalism: the Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh UP, 2016), which was awarded the 2017 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize in American Studies, and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Food (Cambridge UP, 2020). She is currently at work on two projects: Louise Michel in America, forthcoming from Rutgers UP, explores Michel’s expansive influence on late-nineteenth-century American woman radicals and the wider fascination she held for Americans of various political persuasions and Culinary Designs aims to chronicle the making of American taste in the long nineteenth century; in Spring 2023, she will be guest-editing the “Radical Henry James” special issue of The Henry James Review.

“What Does Literature Feel Like?” / 7 October 2022, 2pm-6pm

 Thomas Constantinesco (Sorbonne Université):”Introduction: What Does Literature Feel Like?”
Édouard Marsoin (Université Paris Cité): “Touching Whiteness in Moby-Dick
Adeline Chevrier-Bosseau (Sorbonne Université): “Snowblind: Embodying inarticulated affect in Cathy Marston’s choreographic translation of Ethan Frome
Erica Fretwell (SUNY Albany): “Sensitivity Training”
Q & A

C19 Americanists Abroad. Book Launch (Hannah Murray and Thomas Constantinesco) – Friday, September 23, 12-1pm (BST)

The first event of the 2022-2023 year will be a joint event with C19 Americanists Abroad organized by J. Michelle Coghlan. It will be a virtual book launch event in honour of Hannah Murray’s Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction and Thomas Constantinesco’s Writing Pain in the Nineteenth-Century United States.

Here is the link to the Dropbox folder with copies of Hannah and Thomas’s introductions: