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.