Interview with Dr. Dennis Moore

In the newest installment of our interview series, ASECS Graduate Student Caucus Chair Mallory Porch interviews Dr. Dennis D. Moore, Associate Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at Florida State University.

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

Such transformations!, including the extent to which digital resources and digital work have become nearly central. Cathy Davidson continues to dazzle us with her breadth just as the late Jay Fliegelman was so good at doing. As for spatial transformations: thanks to Paul Gilroy, we think about the Black Atlantic, thanks to Joe Roach we think about the Circum-Atlantic, and so on. The Caribbean, with all its revolutions and its ingenuous ways of extracting profits from slaves, was always there, but now the late Srinivas Aravamudan as well as Laurent DuBois among others have been reminding us how crucial it is that we keep our eyes on the space in between Europe and the so-called New World. (Thank you, David Noble, for reminding us how myopic a view of history those two words perpetuate.) There’s also much, much more just past the other side of this continent, and interest in Captain Cook and his rambles in the Pacific has blossomed into quite a bit of scholarship, by Michelle Burnham among others, that refuses to let us continue seeing the 1700s through Eurocentric lenses. Well, as for time, we’ve increasingly found ways to talk not only about the long eighteenth century but also about what I’ve been referring to at many an ASECS conference as the wide one (please see previous four sentences).

2. How have the parameters of eighteenth-century literary history and periodization changed over the course of your career?

Please see previous half-dozen sentences.

3. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

The content has become far less U.S. centric, and I’m glad. As for how my teaching has continued to evolve, I do watch for and relish finding ways of helping young scholars think out loud in ways that add to what we’ve all read. At the graduate level, the course I’ve taught again this spring is one in which I continue to learn the most: “Slave Narratives and Neo-Slave Narratives.” We began by reading Beloved, with the understanding we’d circle right back to it after having read a range of first-person accounts by former slaves as well a range of novels from our lifetime that help us think about slavery and its ongoing effects. One is Morrison’s A Mercy, which forces the reader to rethink the early days of chattel slavery hereabouts; reading Sacred Hunger forced us to think about the greed that drove the Atlantic slave trade. We also read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Did I mention the oral reports? First one was on Colson Whitehead’s brand-new The Underground Railroad, around which two students ended up building fine papers. There’s another course on “‘Indian’ Captivity Narratives in Context” that I look forward to teaching next fall.

4. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning into the role of assistant professor?

If only every young scholar’s transition were into that O so traditional role! Whatever job that first one is after finishing the Ph.D., it’ll likely have a lot in common with grad school: opportunities to meet new people and to maintain existing friendships and working relationships; deadlines and more deadlines; teaching, sometimes resembling a course one has already taught but often not. If the job involves a research assignment, the pressure to be productive will feel familiar, deadlines and all. As for advice, it never hurts to listen, methinks.

5. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

Once you’re there, listening will help, not only as you attend other scholars’ sessions but also as the other people on your panel and people from the audience comment and ask questions. It’s often tempting to zero in on conferences based on location – ah!, San Diego; ah!, Paris – but that temptation is one that’s well worth avoiding. Is there an organization that stages the conference every year or every two years? Is the organization one of the few remaining ones that publish proceedings? If so, there’s another temptation to resist; instead, think about the journals where you’ve been finding articles whose gestation included a session at the conference you’ve got your eye on. Another temptation that I urge young scholars to resist is giving a paper on a panel that is in effect a grad student ghetto: if every presenter is a grad student, who besides other grad students and maybe a significant other will bother to attend? (Yes, that advice bleeds over into thinking about proposing to give a paper at a conference consisting of only grad students’ papers.) As a reminder, there are productive ways to attend a conference and participate in it that don’t involve giving a paper; a number of journals are on the lookout for grad students willing to write up a summary of papers at a particular conference. Another reminder is that many organizations have not only a national presence, and national conferences, but also chapters for specific geographic regions. Many colleagues tell me they, and often their grad students as well, found giving one’s first-ever paper at a regional can help build a grad student’s confidence. Closer to home, though, does the program where you’re currently a grad student have writing groups, dissertation groups, and so on? Such networking often happens online, so that it matters much less which campus a grad student calls home. Yes, one notion that’s central to this paragraph is networking, and it’s clear to me that a group which helps grad students with networking is ASECS’s Graduate Student Caucus.

6. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty mentor?

Speaking of networking, that’s what a grad student here invited me to talk about, for a recent meeting of the students’ Advanced Literary Scholarship discussion group, where the focus is on professionalization. I said instead of my coming to talk about networking, let’s discuss it. In that context, this question of how to pick who’ll direct your thesis or dissertation came up, over and above a platitude or two (e.g., a certain amount involves chemistry between you, as the student, and this person whose scholarship and integrity you admire). I recommended figuring out whether you want to work with someone who’s inclusive or exclusive. I recommended it then, and I still do.

Interview with Professor Eve Bannet

New year, new blog post! In this installment of our interview series, our own Mallory Porch interviews Eve Tavor Bannet, George Lynn Cross Professor and Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. 

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

The rise and demise of Theory with a capital T, followed by cultural studies, identity politics, the culture wars, post-feminism, queer studies, the return of archival research, transnational studies, ecocriticism, formalist and cognitive approaches, digital humanities….I’m sure I’ve left some out.

2. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

Count your blessings.  It is no longer certain that this is your future.   Above 75% of university teachers are no longer tenure-track.

More troubling, perhaps: some administrations are changing the character of state universities to bring them in line with for-profit institutions. They anticipate a future of flipped classes, where all content will be delivered online, and class-meetings reserved for discussion or clarification. Accordingly, they have begun to replace research faculty who are expert in a field with cheaper term/adjunct faculty who don’t have to know much beyond what is in the program. If I were entering the academy now, I would acquire every advanced computer skill that I could possibly need not only for teaching and research, but also for writing content for computer programs should this imagined future pan out– and I would keep my skills up to date.

3. What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

I begin from a question, not an answer, and follow it wherever it takes me.

I figured out when and how I write best. Everyone is different –some people need to get everything on paper and edit it down afterwards, or talk into a tape, type it up and edit that; others need to perfect their text sentence by sentence. Detailed outlines work for some people, not for others, or for some projects, not for others. Then there are best times of day, best tools and location for writing, knowing when to stop for the day, how to build writing into one’s head and writing time into one’s life….

Dorothea Krook, a  mentor of mine early on, told me to adopt Graham Green’s policy of writing a page a day: “A page a day, my dear, is a book a year.” (Or it was when books still ran to over 300 pages).

4. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

I have dumped term papers and dissertations in favor of asking grad students to write in conference paper, article or book formats, on the grounds that knowing how to write a term paper or dissertation is useless outside grad school, and thinking in terms of conference papers, articles and books takes some practice. I also encourage grad students to think for themselves and come up with their own theses, helping as needed; but I see  that some mentors pretty much feed students the thesis they should develop. This is one thing you might think about when selecting a mentor: which does s/he do, and which works better for me?

For the rest, my advice for picking a mentor corresponds with my advice for interviewing on the academic job market.  Find out all you can about the faculty member/department, interview them to get a sense of the character/s, methods of working, and chemistry/dynamics involved, think of this as a marriage, and ask yourself honestly and very seriously: is this right for me?  If it’s not right, and there aren’t other options, ask yourself how much compromise/misery it is worth to you to continue on the path you are on.

5. What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

Pick a question you really care about—it’s going to be in your life for a long time—and finish your dissertation before you lose interest in the subject. Once you’ve lost interest, it’s hard/impossible to make yourself go on.

Don’t assume that your dissertation must or will look anything like the prospectus.

6. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career? 

Obviously, I prefer teaching subjects I work on and write about. But that doesn’t always happen.

There are generations of students–what they know, how they think, what interests them changes about every 4 years. What I teach and how I teach changes accordingly.

7. What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

Find someone who has secured the one you are after/or read for the awarding agency if you can, and run what you plan to submit by them. Correct it accordingly. Once you have done due diligence in this fashion, don’t take rejection personally. There’s a lot of politics in who gets grants.

8. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

NEVER, EVER, EVER deliver a paper—OR SUBMIT AN ARTICLE—that no one but you has read. Find one reader who knows the field and one who doesn’t. Ask the latter to tell you if your argument is clear and what bits they don’t understand, and rewrite accordingly. This will save you countless rejections.

Deliver your paper; don’t read it, mumbling and looking down. Pitch your voice to the back of the room, and manage your voice—phrasing, pauses and expression.

9. What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

I have just finished a manuscript on manners of reading. I will work on articles on a variety of subjects for a while, before settling on another long-term project.

 

British Women Writers Conference 2017

The 2017 British Women Writers Conference will be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I interviewed the co-organizers, Lauren Pinkerton and Doreen Thierauf, both graduate students at UNC, about their experiences planning and running the upcoming conference. The GSC hopes this post will serve as a helpful guide for other graduate students responsible for running multi-day events as well as encourage ASECS members to apply to present at this exciting conference!

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How did you hear about the opportunity to host the British Women Writers Conference? What made you decide to put together a proposal?

Doreen: We attended BWWC 2015 in New York City for the first time and were very impressed with the organization. We hadn’t known that graduate students are in charge of the process and we loved the events that Livia Woods and Meechal Hoffman from CUNY had put together. When they welcomed everyone outside the venue during a break on the first day of the conference, Livia and Meechal mentioned that the BWWA was still looking for organizers for the 2017 conference. Lauren looked at me expectantly and we started laughing. We expressed our interest to some of the BWWA board members the same day and started contacting graduate students in our own department with the news right away. Since then, we haven’t stopped planning.

Could you talk a little about the BWWC itself? How do graduate students in particular benefit from this conference?

Lauren: The British Women Writers Association promotes research on historical women writers whose work has been neglected thus far. You can find more information about the Association here: https://britishwomenwriters.org/. For graduate students, it’s important to know that the BWWC is a particularly supportive and collegial conference. Although Doreen and I have only attended two BWWC conferences so far (the 2015 conference at CUNY and the 2016 conference at UGA), we noticed the organization’s inherent culture of mentorship and support. Not only do the organizers accept a large number of graduate student proposals every year (around 40% usually), but the atmosphere at the conference encourages non-hierarchical exchange of ideas as well as collegiality and friendship. Doreen and I also received plenty of support and advice from the BWWA board as we began planning the 2017 conference, but we were still encouraged to make the conference our own.

How did you go about setting a plan for the proposal. That is, how much planning, fundraising, etc. went into the proposal stage?

Doreen: We sat in on the board meeting at the 2015 BWWC after indicating that we were interested in running the event ourselves. The board–including previous organizers–were incredibly helpful with advice and shared their own proposals, budgets, and conference programs with us. Kirstyn Leuner–now a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth, but previously part of the BWWC steering committee at the University at Colorado–deserves a huge shoutout here because she answered all my questions patiently and allowed me to access her cache of conference-related documents. Once Lauren and I had sifted through all the information, we drew up our own proposal. It is a fairly formulaic genre, and we had four or five past proposals to work from, so it was mostly an issue of researching attractive locations, reaching out to faculty and graduate students in the department, and asking volunteers to pick a task or two. Once we had identified our faculty adviser, Dr. Kimberly Stern, and secured support from our department chair, we began contacting campus institutions that we hoped would likely support the conference, including the Graduate School, the Provost Office, and the College of Arts and Sciences. We received funding promises in excess of $10,000 while still drafting the proposal, and of course we let the BWWA know that UNC was enthusiastic about bringing the BWWC to our campus.

What challenges and advantages did you face as a graduate student attempting to put together a conference of this size?

Lauren: Doreen and I have a wonderful support system—our faculty advisor, our steering committee, the UNC English department—but, as co-chairs, we shoulder most of the responsibility. By the time the conference happens next June, Doreen and I will have been planning BWWC 2017 for two years. We have spent countless hours drafting fundraising proposals, touring potential spaces for panels and keynotes, reviewing catering quotes, creating the conference website and program, and sending out hundreds of emails. Of course, while definitely challenging, conference planning as a graduate student has been an invaluable lesson as to what professional life at the university looks like. And—I definitely want to emphasize this—it’s been really, really fun!

How did you decide on the conference theme? How did the theme influence your choice of speakers?

Doreen: I believe I blurted out the conference theme while sitting over dinner with Lauren, Meechal, and Livia at the Harlem Tavern during BWWC 2015. We pondered the importance of the BWWA’s 25th anniversary, particularly in terms of paying tribute to its founders and early attendees–who are now senior scholars–and inviting early-career researchers to help shape the future of the profession. I had read somewhere that the average human generation is a quarter-century long and I thought it would be a neat theme for this sort of juncture. If I remember correctly, someone said “that’s it,” and it was decided. When drafting the proposal, we came up with a long list of possible keynote speakers, but our top picks all agreed right away so we didn’t have to whittle down the list. From the start, we had planned to include a 25th-anniversary retrospective and invited Pamela Corpron Parker, Cindy Lacom, and Donelle Ruwe, co-founders of the BWWA, for a plenary or a shared keynote. We were devastated when Dr. Parker passed away earlier this summer, so the whole conference–and the opening keynote in particular–will be dedicated to Dr. Parker’s memory and legacy.

What is the format of this year’s conference?

Lauren: The majority of our events will be daily paper sessions, spread across three days, along with seven roundtables (please check out our website for individual roundtable CFPs), three professionalization workshops for graduate students, a rare book exhibit, and, of course, the three major keynotes, one every night. Next to the retrospective keynote we already mentioned, we are delighted to welcome Andrew Stauffer (UVA) as well as Marjorie Stone (Dalhousie) and Beverly Taylor (UNC) as our keynote speakers. In addition, we will have a musical performance–“The Song Cycles of Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head”–with an introductory lecture by Professor Beth Dolan (Lehigh). We also have a plenary discussion devoted to the topic of supporting contingent faculty research, moderated by Professor Miranda Yaggi (Indiana University). The main banquet at The Carolina Inn and a daily Southern breakfast are included in the conference fee. Other program highlights include a birthday party to celebrate the BWWC’s 25th anniversary, a welcome reception for those arriving a day early, an opening reception, a pub crawl, and a twilight campus tour.

What kinds of proposals do you hope to attract this year?

Doreen: We’re interested in “Generation” in the broadest terms–as a literary, critical, historical, political, or biological category. You can find our call for papers here: http://bwwc17.web.unc.edu/call-for-papers/. Essentially, we’re looking for ways to think about ruptures, shifts, and transitions over time in women’s writing and in feminist academic and pedagogical practice. Proposals should be 300 words long and accompanied by a short bio paragraph. Send one document to bwwc2017@gmail.com by January 15, 2017. The BWWA sponsors travel grants for graduate students who submit excellent proposals–so you should apply for those, too! We will circulate information about the travel grants in the coming weeks.

What are your hopes for the 2017 conference?

Lauren: I hope that all of our attendees will have an enjoyable and productive time at the conference. There will be lots of individual events as well as sufficiently long breaks in between for attendees to chat, catch up, or get to know each other. Doreen and I have had such a great time at past BWWC conferences. Our main goal is to make the 2017 one live up to those before us!  

Doreen: We have been working on this event for a long time already, so my greatest hope is that everything will go as planned. We anticipate that we will have to solve some unexpected issues on the spot, but we’re doing all we can to ensure a smooth and enjoyable conference for everyone.

 

Interview with Professor Felicity Nussbaum

The Graduate Student Caucus is excited to announce a new blog mini-series, featuring interviews with faculty members in the field discussing advances in eighteenth-century studies, the state of the profession, and advice for current grad students.

In this first installment of our series, Michael Nicholson, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute, interviews Felicity Nussbaum, Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Interview with Professor Felicity Nussbaum:

I’ve been asked to answer lots of questions that relate to graduate students in eighteenth-century studies, and I’m happy to do so. Teaching and mentoring grad students has been my greatest joy over the many decades of my career. I could write reams about all the questions that were given to me, but I’ll just choose a few among them. Here goes—

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of my career?

The feminist movement of the 1970s was essential to the direction of my interests and my research. Gloria Steinem early talked about the “click” when a woman recognized inequality based on sex, and those clicks were loud and frequent when I began my career. I had no women professors in graduate school, and the professor in my bibliography class scoffed at my wanting to work on Elizabeth Elstob, a brilliant scholar and linguist, for a class project. My first book was on satires against women in eighteenth-century British literature, and several of the reviewers questioned whether there was, in fact, any such tradition. But the women’s movement also meant that I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a series of senior male professors who wanted to increase the numbers of women in the profession and who offered me valuable advice.

Another important transformation was the “theory” revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. Laura Brown and I collected a group of essays, The New Eighteenth Century, which chided scholars in our field who were unwilling to entertain approaches other than a staid traditional historicism. We encouraged experiments in feminist criticism, historical materialism, new historicism, and post-structuralism, for example. That volume was controversial but, as a number of people have told me, it enabled a fresh conversation about the way we think about what we do and authorized some younger scholars to pursue new avenues.

2. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning into the role of assistant professor?

The transition is often more difficult than one anticipates. You are no longer part of a graduate school community, and you are usually in an unfamiliar place where everything is new, from the code needed to use the Xerox machine to finding a dentist. I tell grad students that the first year is about teaching, connecting with faculty in your department and elsewhere, and allowing your dissertation to lie fallow. Plan to use the summer following the first year to publish another article, or perhaps two, and to apply for short-term fellowships for the following year. Visiting rare book libraries is a great way to meet other scholars, and to gather exciting ideas. Also, merely writing the proposals helps develop your project. In your third year, apply for long-term fellowships so that you can tackle the revisions to your dissertation and get the manuscript to the press in the fifth year. Of course, life intervenes, and you may not be able to do all this in a timely manner—but do your best. Hopefully you will be exempt from committee work your first year, but do offer to participate in service your second year.

3. What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

When I began my career, I thought I might write only the occasional article. In the first summer I visited Yale University (the Boswell factory), was introduced to Professor William K. Wimsatt, and fell in love with archival work. My dissertation had been on James Boswell, and I wanted to read the manuscript of The Life of Johnson, where I was surprised to find revisions regarding Johnson’s temper that spurred my first article.

I discovered that writing was actually therapeutic for me, and I still find it so. As I think of ideas I would like to pursue, I jot notes in files to be consulted later. In terms of actual writing practice—I write for long uninterrupted stretches. But when my children were young, I broke the writing into small chunks. What can I accomplish in two hours? In three? In four? I always make notes to myself about what I want to work on when I return to the essay or chapter. And I review what I wrote before moving on. Sometimes it is such a mess that the revisions consume the whole day!

4. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty mentor?

It’s hard to put my approach in a nutshell, but mentoring graduate students means, at the very least, being available to them on a predictable basis, and offering advice at every juncture. Most graduate students are highly self-directed, and I think of my role as stimulating their interests and encouraging the development of paths less traveled. Especially critical are the times in graduate careers when one prepares for exams and chooses a dissertation topic. I have found it is important to encourage students to keep moving along and, if they seem intimidated by the next step, to try to demystify it so that it seems possible to achieve, or to make a call to a colleague who might help. I ask the students who are working with me to let me vet their applications, letters, and abstracts. I make clear that they are very welcome to disregard any advice I give.

5. What advice do you have on selecting dissertation topics? What advice do you have for graduate students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

A dissertation project extends for at least two years and often for five or six years beyond. Obviously, that’s a long time! I encourage grad students to build on their earlier work but especially to follow their passions. Read widely in the books and articles that are hot off the press. Often a topic in another field will give you an idea as to what to pursue on an eighteenth-century topic. And sometimes a topic that seems dull or unimportant at first mention will blossom during subsequent discussions into a compelling idea. Don’t just follow the latest trend. By the time your dissertation is a book, the topic will probably seem passé.

6. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career? 

This is a hard question to answer, because I have enjoyed every graduate class I have taught. I have been fortunate to teach a graduate seminar every year since coming to UCLA (and many before that), and usually the topic is related to my own research. For example, “Garrick and the Blues[stockings],” “Boswell, Johnson, and Thrale,” “Tragedy in Novel and Drama,” “Racial Thinking in Eighteenth-Century Literature,” etc. My courses always involve primary texts, literary criticism, theoretical readings, and oral reports on related topics as well as a seminar paper. My method has probably not evolved very much, except in that I try to stay very current with recent scholarship.

7. What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

Perseverance. Just keep trying. Ask your mentors to read your grant proposals and make suggestions well before sending them out. Use the proposal to tell a story. Getting grants has to do with writing clear, coherent proposals that are accessible to readers outside the field. If you are seeking grants at a library or institution, do your homework about their strengths and their collections. Frankly, getting grants also depends on who is on the committee, so keep trying, even with the same grant agency, because the constitution of the committees often changes each year.

8. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

The tendency now among grad students is to attend quite a few conferences and give lots of papers, but this inevitably interrupts their progress-to-degree. I recommend no more than two conferences a year, but I do think that it is a good idea to go to one international conference before graduating. Prepare thoroughly for giving a paper, preferably practicing with a group of fellow students or faculty. How you answer the questions matters as much as the quality of the paper you give. At the conference, attend as many sessions as you can, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you have a comment or question. Attend the social gatherings, and use the conference as a professionalization experience.

9. What advice do you have for graduate students interviewing on the academic job market (either at MLA or via Skype)?

Again, my advice is to practice, practice, practice. Each kind of interview (phone, Skype, personal, campus) is different, and each requires practice for that specific kind of experience. So don’t hesitate to ask others to help you prep for each one of these. Talk to those who have been successful on the job market. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the websites of the departments where you are interviewing. Think of questions to ask them, and let them know you are interested in the answers. And don’t turn down a job you haven’t been offered!

10. How have the parameters of eighteenth-century literary history and periodization changed over the course of your career?

The eighteenth century used to be divided into “The Age of….” Dryden, Swift, Pope, and Johnson. It has subsequently burgeoned forth with the expansion of attention to women’s writing (especially the novel), to the literary history of slavery and empire across the globe, and with renewed attention to the long-neglected drama of the period. It has become longer, wider, and deeper, a development I welcome! Those scholars in adjacent periods sometimes worry that we are encroaching on their territory, but with the humanities continuing to be under attack, we can, I think build on each other’s strengths and forge new knowledge as we re-imagine the divisions and the connections between literary periods.

11. What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

I’ve just finished a paper on London-Irish actresses, another on the novelist Phebe Gibbes, and still another on representations of Indian ayahs. I’ve written a series of essays on Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, an infinitely interesting woman, and a book may evolve from those essays. In addition, I continue to work on essays regarding literary conjunctions of abolition and Orientalism in the period.

My final bit of advice to graduate students at all points in their careers is to ask for whatever you need, whether it is information, advice, a computer, a research fund, a raise, or time off. My motto has always been, “Why not? All they can say is ‘no,’ and they might just say ‘yes’!”

#ASECS16

One week until #ASECS16 in Pittsburgh, PA! (program here)

This post is a hand guide for the annual ASECS conference. First time ASECSers will find some helpful info here, and so too might the veteran conference attendee.

Tip #1

Finish your paper before you get there.

In every blog, or article, or advice column ever written about conference-going, this is always #1. For good reason.

It’s hard to write in an awkward corner of a hotel room. You’ll miss out on early panels and events. You’ll be stressed. You’ll be scrambling to figure out the hotel’s printing availability.

Write it, print it, practice it, revise it, practice it again. Print it. And bring it.


Tip #2

Presenting your paper.

This little gem has regularly gone around Twitter at MLA. I think it is a universal conference reminder:

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If you’re unfamiliar, the expected time for a paper on a regular panel is 15-20min, depending on the number of people presenting; 8-10min for a round-table participant.

And it’s always nice to aim on the short side. Jack Lynch gives this explanation:

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Tip #3

Meet People.

Ula Klein’s post over on Eighteenth Century Notes and Petticoats which we featured as a great blog for the Eighteenth Century Enthusiast has a great breakdown on how to have a successful ASECS that focuses on people. The people you meet at ASECS will be great collaborators, supporters, research helpers, shoulders to cry on, co-authors, friends, and more. Klein talks about how to be a friend not a fan, when to appropriately bring up research with others, and more.

Devoney Looser has an excellent piece in The Chronicle for Higher Education on “Why I Love Academic Conferences(or here). Her advice about having a professional interchange is spot on:

Have ready a brief, accessible self-description. Be prepared to share the professional stage that you’re at and what are you working on, doing so without hesitation, apologies, or self-deprecation. Your description needs to be declarative, enthusiastic, and to the point. “I’m (first and last name). I’m A.B.D. in (discipline) at (institution). I work on X area, specifically on Y, looking at Z, which matters because (argument).” Then wait for a follow-up question or ask a question of your listener. If this is especially hard for you, then practice it in front of a mirror or with a friend, but please don’t deliver it like a robot.

Grad Caucus Lunch is Friday April 1 1:00-2:30pm

Other grad students are a gold mine of info: which scholars will buy you a free drink, which ones will leave you with the bill at the end of dinner, which ones will give you feedback on your work, which ones will dance in hotel disco.

They also have amazing advisers. I was introduced to a scholar whose work I admired after meeting her advisees at the Grad Caucus Luncheon. We danced at the Masquerade Ball (circa ASECS 2014) together.


Tip #4

Find a Mentor, Gather Advice

Listen to others. Get advice and info from other scholars. You can go to:

The Doctor Is “In” (Thurs-Saturday)

  • A help desk to provide mentoring, answer questions, and more! A rotating group of scholars will be waiting to give you advice. Come with questions!

Women’s Caucus, and Lesbian & Gay Caucus

  • Two incredibly inclusive groups (of many), open to all.

Rethinking the Academic Conference round-table (Saturday April 2, 9:45-11:15am)

  • Featuring Laura Miller’s on “Removing Barriers to Junior Scholars at ASECS”

Tip #5

Eat. Gather.

Go to social activities. Go out to dinner with new friends. With old friends. With advisers. Don’t have dinner plans? Ask someone to join their dinner trip—almost everyone is just heading out for some much needed socializing and decmpressing after a day of attending panels.

Daniel O’Quinn gave this advice that I think is *excellent* (and not at all shallow, and important when you’re on a grad student budget).

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Tip #6

See the town

You’re in a new city. And how often do you really get to travel on your grad student budget? So take a break from the panels and step out to enjoy the city. Greg Spector (@GregSpector) has written up a *lovely* 18C specific post on Pittsburgh for ASECS attendees this year. Check it out here: Touring the 18C in Pittsburgh.


Tip #7

TWEET!

You’ll find us Tweeting @asecsgrad, and so will @ASECSWomen and many more. ASECS has a big group of participants that live-tweet panels. Two great panels at the same time? Ask someone else to tweet the one you can’t get to! I’ve made some great connections with people at ASECS conferences after we shared a panel tweet-storm.
This year you’ll find ASECS related tweets under #ASECS16 .


Tip #8 (a silly one)

Shoe Game.

There are plenty of articles out there on what to wear at an academic conference. Each conference has it’s own personality.

In her Chronicle article (above) Devoney Looser notes this on fashion at conferences in general:

Dress aspirationally. There will be a range of attire at any academic conference, although there will also probably be a de facto uniform. Want to know how to dress? Look at photos from past conferences, or ask a trusted mentor for advice. Some people make a name for themselves by dressing ultra smartly or ultra casually. Maybe that’s you, and you’re most comfortable that way. Fine.

But if it’s not, and you are struggling with how to present yourself, then dress aspirationally. Are you a graduate student? Dress like a new assistant professor. Are you a new assistant professor? Dress like the person going up for tenure. It can’t hurt to have others envision you as already in the next professional stage or rank that you’d like to achieve.

On an ASECS specific note I’ll include a few personal observations:

It varies. There are people in suits. There are people in jeans with a blazer. I wear a dress (with pockets!) most days. Nobody to my knowledge has ever commented negatively on fashion. You’ll see a lot of black, but not in a snobby way.
But what you will see is some kick-ass shoe game.
As Cassie Childs so aptly noted a few weeks ago, “Shoe game is high at ASECS”. Kit Kincade always shows up with some fantastic footwear, and I am sure it will be THE place to look for these in action:
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Image from Official Dr. Martin’s website here.

 

 

On a final note, one shared by everyone who commented on the Facebook thread over at Eighteenth-Century Quick Questions page (you should join), everyone noted that ASECS (and it’s regional daughters ) is just plain a friendly, welcoming conference. Can’t wait to see you (and your shoes) there next week!

Blogs for the Eighteenth Century Enthusiast

Do you read blogs? (I hope so! You’re reading this one!). Blogs are a great way to stay up on conversations in a field, or about a topic. They are also a great way to experience a conference or exhibit second-hand, or get quick tastes of information.

This post is about blogs devoted to the eighteenth century. The following blogroll is not exhaustive, or in any specific order, but hopes to serve as a good place to start your internet eighteenth-century reading.

C18 Loving Blogs

Enfilade is the blog home for Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art & Architecture. This blog is an excellent resource for Calls for Papers and announcements of new publications in the field.

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ABO Public is the interactive online salon connected to the fantastic journal, ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830. With sections like ‘The Eighteenth Century in Popular Culture’ and ‘Public and Digital Pedagogy’, the blog speaks to a wide audience. They’ve also been known to host posts by graduate student researchers. It’s a fantastic place to go for the latest work on women writers, and to get to know the work of scholars interested in public outreach scholarship.

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The Long 18-th Century is a blog by eighteenth-century scholars, for eighteenth-century scholars. It grew out of interdisciplinary discussions on the C18-L listerv, and regularly posts responses to new research or conversations in the field. It also posts CFPs. Check it out!

The Voltaire Foundation blog features regular posts about the Enlightenment. This blog is especially good at representing a global eighteenth century. Posts on printing history, new scholarly publications, and eighteenth-century art are especially great on this blog.

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18th-Century Commons Gazette always has their finger on the pulse of the latest conferences, exhibits, publications, and events of interest to those who love eighteenth-century studies.

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The Lady’s Magazine Project blog has regular posts from three team-members working on the project (which is out of the University of Kent). The posts discuss original research, offer peeks into the eighteenth-century magazine publication, and even inspire reader participation! Blog posts on embroidery patterns in the magazine has led to a project called the “Great Stitch Off”– encouraging participants worldwide to take to the needle, and create textiles with eighteenth-century patterns! AND (yes, there is more) you can see these lovely pieces at Chawton House Library’s Exhibition: 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s Emma!

The Georgian Era blog is a fun read. Penned by two historians and their guests, this blog features short highlights of the Georgian period. It is especially strong in posts about fashion, material culture, and trends in the periodical press. If you love Georgian caricatures, or a conversation about headdresses, this is the blog for you!

Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th-Century is like meeting up with your ASECS friends and gossiping about the eighteenth century in a wonderfully nerdy way—only it’s online! The posts are about the juiciest bits of eighteenth-century knowledge: mysteries, rumors, new discoveries, scandalous individuals,  and controversies.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 2.17.21 PMEighteenth-Century Notes and Petticoats is the wonderful blog of Ula Klein. The archives of this blog offer a great resources of conference roundups, and discussions about women in the eighteenth-century.

A Covent Garden Gilfurt’s Guide to Life is a great resource for getting to know the streets, shops, and places from the eighteenth-century. It has round-ups on  figures or events from the period. Catherine Curzon has a post on just about everyone and every big moment from the period, plus her Twitter feed is like getting a daily C18 Fact.

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Reveries Under the Sign of Austen, TWO. Don’t be fooled by the title of this blog. While there are tons of posts on Austen, there are also lots of posts on Austen’s world, women in the eighteenth century, art, geography, and more. Ellen Moody writes about everything from conferences she attends, to reviewing film adaptations of eighteenth-century works, and weighing in on new scholarship.

 

If you like following blogs, and getting regular updates about their posts, you have several options. You can follow blogs via a blog-roll (like blogger.com), sign up for emails, or follow them via social media. What eighteenth-century topic blogs do you follow? Tweet at us at @asecsgrad, or post to our Facebook page.

Preparing for your Dissertation Defense

I recently defended my dissertation and, having heard horror stories about hostile committees playing “stump the candidate,” surprised myself by exclaiming how exciting the defense was and how much I enjoyed the conversation and the celebration of the defense.

Being heralded as a celebratory event does not diminish the level of anxiety that a dissertation defense can induce upon even the most prepared doctoral candidate. During the week prior to my defense, I regularly had dreams of walking into the room and being asked to produce some final chapter that I was unaware I was supposed to write, or that my committee of once-supportive faculty members suddenly turned against my project, or that my voice could not be heard (I did end up defending while recovering from laryngitis, so there was perhaps some truth in that nightmare).

But when the day of my defense dawned, all anxieties had vanished: I was ready to do this thing! I was confident in my knowledge (after all, despite my junior-scholar status, I was the reigning expert in the room on the topic of eighteenth-century footnotes) and I was confident in my ability to convey my knowledge.

I have identified three concrete steps that I took in preparing for my defense that led to my readiness and the empowerment that the defense occasioned. These steps range from preparations one year (or more) in advance, to one week, or even one day, before the defense.

  • Talk early and talk often about your dissertation—even when it is not yet fully written.

For the past year before my defense, I embraced every opportunity to talk about my writing and to do so with people of varying familiarity with my project: I thought aloud with my adviser, I discussed theoretical problems with members of my writing group, I learned ways of describing the research to those not in academia, and I practiced my “elevator pitch” with interested colleagues at ASECS and other conferences.

This process of vocalizing my thoughts and theorizations allowed me to rehearse what would eventually become the discourse of the dissertation defense: my topic, my methodology, and my intervention in or contribution to the field. Granted, in the early stages of drafting the dissertation, most conversations consisted largely of mushfaking. But the very act of vocalizing my ideas led to more productive writing sessions; using these conversations to pitch my ideas actually allowed me to formalize my ideas in the midst of the writing process. And then using this familiarity with talking about my dissertation, the writing, and the process of it all made the defense feel almost like second nature.

I had known that talking with a variety of people in a variety of ways about the contributions of my dissertation as it takes shape would aid in the composition process as well as in various stages of the job market. However, I had not anticipated the benefit it would lend in the defense until the defense itself when I realized how natural it was to talk for minutes on end about my work—to humbly brag about the ground I was breaking in the scholarship.

  • Think about how to tell your dissertation’s “life story.”

About one week before the defense, I started freewriting daily about my dissertation, beginning with a personal—even sentimental—reflection on the “life story” of the manuscript: how the ideas were born; how each chapter came into existence with a different writing process; what specific moments in the process stand out most vividly in my memory. From there, my freewriting moved into more formal discussion of the dissertation, writing about it as though I were compiling an annotated bibliography or a literature review: the dissertation’s contribution, methods, strengths, and limitations (similar to the elevator pitch I had been rehearsing). I then concluded the freewriting by talking about what would come next with the project: revisions into a book, other related (and unrelated) projects that I might pursue, and how I have grown as a scholar throughout the dissertation process.

I distilled my freewriting down into a single page of bullet points that, with the permission of my committee, I carried with me to the defense:

  • Process
  • Argument
  • Contribution
  • Limitations
  • What’s next

At the defense itself, this sheet served more as a security blanket than a prompt; the act of writing out the concepts and then distilling the main ideas and rewriting them was beneficial in placing these ideas at the forefront of my mind. Moreover, placing myself within the writing process—indulging in the sentiment of recalling the various “aha!” moments or the satisfaction of writing those few brilliant, pithy sentences—allowed me to accept the authority of my scholarship. It also served as a reminder that no scholarship exists in a vacuum and that the celebratory occasion of the dissertation defense is also a celebration of the intellectual community that my dissertation had helped to construct.

  • Imagine the defense within a familiar context.

Having only a vague recollection of the defense for my MA, I was unsure what to expect from the even higher stakes of the dissertation defense—the department’s language about my institution’s defense process was vague, labeling it a celebratory event but encouraging advisers to undercut their student’s arguments. Much like mastering the unique genre of writing the dissertation, I needed to master a setting or context for the defense.

So, at the prompting of my adviser, I imagined two different intellectual settings with which I was familiar—even comfortable: conference panels and book clubs.

At my defense, I mentally cast myself in a hybrid of these settings: I was here to engage in rigorous, intellectual discourse and to redirect challenging or unclear questions (á la the Q/A of a conference panel). And, I was sitting in a room with people who devoted their time to talk in depth about their favorite and least favorite moments in a book, my dissertation manuscript.

The morning of my defense, I allowed my mind to transport me into these imagined settings. Doing so allowed me to focus on engaging others with my work rather than fixating on the high stakes of the defense, to relax and speak with confidence and ease—much as I would at a conference or at a book club—and to be empowered by the critical and supportive attention given to my scholarship.

—————–

I can stake no claim to universal and guaranteed success when following these pieces of advice. One aspect of the success of my defense which was not part of my active preparation process was the composition of my committee: each member had been supportive, communicative, and adaptable, actively demonstrating their belief in and commitment to my project from its initial conception.

What else might you do or what might you do differently to prepare for your dissertation defense? Share your comments below.

Ruth Knezevich is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Missouri. She recently defended her dissertation on footnotes in 18th-century novels and poetry. The post is expressly her opinion, and does not represent the views of ASECS, nor the University of Missouri.