Accessibility at ASECS and Beyond: A Guest Post by Dr. Jason Farr and Dr. Travis Chi Wing Lau

Title page of book manuscript

Title Page of Sarah Scott’s _Millenium Hall_ (4th ed., 1778. Photo credit: Kristin Distel, Ohio University)

In Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (1762), a group of women who have each escaped the dreadful consequences of toxic heterosexual courtships and disastrous marriages come together to establish a community of industrious laborers who work together for the common good. As the novel’s narrator, Sir George Ellison, and his “coxcomb” nephew, Lamont, are shown around the grounds of Millenium Hall (the name of the estate and namesake for the novel), they marvel at the variably-embodied, sensory impaired, and neurodiverse individuals that they encounter there. At one point, an aging woman reveals the core principles behind the estate’s organization through her description of her neighbors: “Now, there is neighbour Susan, and neighbour Rachel; Susan is lame, so she spins cloaths for Rachel; and Rachel cleans Susan’s house, and does such things for her as she cannot do for herself” (66). As the woman indicates to Ellison and Lamont, Susan and Rachel, and the estate inhabitants generally, depend upon one another for subsistence. Despite the individualism of their life there (they each live in different homes, for instance), the labor they perform is based on a communal and interchangeable kind of accessibility. Susan and Rachel, though each impaired in their distinctive ways, assist each other by completing tasks that the other would not be able to accomplish on their own. Each of the estate members works toward the common good of caring for one another, which in turn keeps the estate prosperous. Through this mindful organization of labor, the estate becomes accessible to figures from across the body and mind spectrums.

            We are fascinated by Scott’s portrayal of the utopian estate of Millenium Hall for the way that it balances the needs of the individual with those of the community. We might look to Scott’s portrayal of accessibility as a model for what we could achieve at ASECS meetings and in conference settings generally. Academia is, of course, a profession that demands individualized intellectual labor, but one of the most rewarding times of the year is when we all come together to share with each other what we have been reading, writing about, and teaching. And like Scott’s variably-embodied inhabitants, we all bring our unique embodiments to these meetings in shared space. We like to think of accessibility–in our panels, in the various social events we plan, and in the conference generally–as a collective way of both celebrating and including every body and mind. We see accessibility to be a cornerstone of scholarly community where there is space and time for everyone who attends.

If part of what we train our students to do is enter into scholarly conversations, how we go about that conversation in our own professional settings matters.

            Successful conferences can bring about transformations in the methods, archives, and topics within our field. Such substantive dialogue requires an ongoing attention to who has access to these spaces and conversations. If part of what we train our students to do is enter into scholarly conversations, how we go about that conversation in our own professional settings matters. The format of conference panels, which include both the delivered papers and subsequent Q&A, remains primarily aural. Papers are typically delivered sequentially in spoken form and sometimes accompanied with audio-visual presentations. However, those who may be hard of hearing, deaf, or have cognitive disabilities may not find the conventional spoken paper accessible even when delivered at the podium with a microphone.

While not every panelist may be working off of a scripted talk, accessibility copies can take the form of lists of key points or even sketches of the talk—any form that might guide your audience member.

A primary accessibility strategy widely adopted at many conferences including the MLA annual meeting is accessibility copies of individual given papers. Accessibility copies are typically large-print versions of the talk’s script, which attendees can use to follow along or refer to if they miss something. The Disability Caucus requests all of its panelists to have these copies regardless of whether or not an attendee requests accessibility copies in advance. This takes the pressure off attendees having to disclose any disabilities or having to constantly ask the chair of each panel they are interested in to provide copies. Most importantly, it does not make the assumption that all audience members’ bodyminds are the same. Papers are simply there if you need one, no questions asked. While not every panelist may be working off of a scripted talk, accessibility copies can take the form of lists of key points or even sketches of the talk—any form that might guide your audience member. Attending to accessibility involves an ongoing process of thinking through the inclusions and exclusions of a paper. How might you extend the reach of your ideas and thinking?

While there is no universal design that will make conferences perfectly accessible to all bodyminds in attendance, we want to stress the value of accessibility in the way it benefits every attendee. By enabling every attendee to engage with the presentations and feel more comfortable in conference settings, prioritizing accessibility actually improves the circulation of new ideas and new voices. We echo the principles guiding the Society for Disability Studies: foster community, strive to connect; think access, model access. This project is a collective one from which all of us in the field have to gain.

…We can work toward the creation of a community that accounts for everybody.

            We have included a link to a handy guide that includes different strategies–ranging from describing visuals in detail to chairing sessions–to improve accessibility at conferences. We hope that you will integrate these relatively easy accessibility tips into your experience during #ASECSat50. If you have any questions or concerns, please write to us or find us during the conference. Please do not be afraid to ask if you are concerned about an access issue, which we know can be hard to talk about. We are always happy to talk about accessibility and other disability-related issues as we ourselves learn new ways to make our own research and pedagogy accessible to not only our colleagues but our students and the wider public. Let’s make this a shared conversation so that, like the inhabitants of Millenium Hall, we can work toward the creation of a community that accounts for everybody.

Link for: “Toward a More Accessible Conference Presentation”

Jason Farr, Marquette University

Headshot of man wearing suit

Jason Farr is assistant professor of English at Marquette University and adjunct assistant professor in the Institute for Health & Equity at Medical College of Wisconsin. His book, Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature (Bucknell), will be out in June of 2019. His writing appears in venues such as Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. He is currently working with colleagues at Marquette to establish a health humanities minor and serves on the board for Marquette’s Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies. He can be found on twitter at @farr_jason.


Travis Chi Wing Lau, University of Texas at Austin

b/w headshot

Travis Chi Wing Lau received his Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania and is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, the history of medicine, medical humanities, and disability studies. His academic writing has been published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Romantic Circles, Digital Defoe, Disability Studies Quarterly, and English Language Notes. His creative writing has appeared in Wordgathering, Glass, The New Engagement, Nat. Brut, Matador Review, Impossible Archetype, Hematopoiesis Press, and Rogue Agent. His chapbook, The Bone Setter, was recently published with Damaged Goods Press. He currently serves as an editor for The Deaf Poets Society and a reviews poetry for publications like Up the Staircase Quarterly and Tupelo Quarterly. [ / @travisclau]


Works Cited:

Scott, Sarah. Millenium Hall. Edited by Gary Kelly. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1995.



‘Digital Defoe’ Journal Seeks Second Technical Editor

Digital Defoe is seeking second technical editor to support the journal’s operations. The journal publishes one volume a year; typically a volume consists of 4-5 scholarly articles, 5-8 books reviews, and occasional multimedia or digital projects.

The technical editor will need to work with formatting of PDF files for publication; they will also need to help maintain the journal’s website, and may assist with migrating earlier volumes of the journal to a new server.  They will thus need to have advanced PDF editing skills (and have access to Adobe Acrobat Pro), as well as strong familiarity and experience with the WordPress content management system.

This would be an opportunity for someone with these skills to gain experience in digital editing and publishing. No specific expertise in Defoe or the early eighteenth-century is necessary.

Someone taking this on would be collaborating with the incumbent technical editor, Param Ajmera; the book review editor, Jason Pearl; and co-editors Adam Sills and Christopher Loar. Please contact Christopher Loar at to express interest or ask questions.



ASECS Graduate Student Caucus Excellence in Mentorship Award

The ASECS Graduate Student Caucus Excellence in Mentorship Award was established by the Society’s Executive Board in 2007 at the behest of the Graduate Student Caucus in order to honor faculty who have taught, led, and motivated their students in the study of the long eighteenth century. The GSC Award committee thus invites nominations for candidates who have a distinguished record as teachers, mentors, and advisors.

The GSC will look most favorably upon nominations that can demonstrate the following: the candidate’s commitment to their students’ short- and long-term goals, their effectiveness in helping students to navigate graduate school coursework and requirements, their ability to guide and inspire students in the exchange of ideas, research and writing; their success in seeking and securing opportunities for their mentees, such as conference presentations, publications, fellowships, and/or grant awards.

The awards committee will consist of two members of the Graduate Student Caucus and a member of the Executive Board who acts as liaison with the GSC. The nominator must be a member of ASECS; the recipient need not be at the time of the award, but is expected to be a member the following year and to participate in the GSC professionalization panel in 2020.  

Submission Information

One person (not a current student/advisee of the nominee) should serve as the organizer for a candidate’s nomination. This individual should write one of the nomination letters, procure the nominee’s C.V., solicit the additional letters of support, and submit the materials.

Nominations should include:

  1. Three letters of support. Letters should discuss the ways in which the nominee has supported and fostered the teaching and scholarly/professional goals of mentees and should describe specific instances that demonstrate their qualities as an effective mentor. Letters may come from former students, from colleagues, collaborators, and others qualified to speak to the nomination. Together the letters should provide evidence for the range, excellence, consistency, and salutary impact of the nominee’s mentoring history. The maximum length for each letter is two single-spaced pages.
  1. The nominee’s 5-page C.V. The nomination organizer should highlight, and where necessary explain, items that are particularly relevant to the Mentorship Award.

Deadline and Notification

Nominations must be submitted via email to Kristin Distel, chair of the ASECS Graduate Student Caucus (kd484114[at] Henceforth, the call for nominees will be posted in December each year. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2019. By February 15, the award recipient will be informed of their selection by the Graduate Student Caucus chair, and the winner’s name will be posted on the Graduate Student Caucus website. The winner of the award will be recognized at the ASECS annual meeting and will be expected to present on the Graduate Student Caucus’s professional development panel at the annual meeting in the following year.


‘The Experimental Imagination: Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment’: Book Launch and Interview with Dr. Tita Chico

Book cover, tan, black lettering

Dr. Tita Chico is Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland and has been Editor of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation since 2001.

Recently, the English department at the University Maryland hosted Dr. Chico’s book launch for her second monograph, The Experimental Imagination: Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment (Stanford University Press). Her book challenges perceptions of science through literary knowledge, demonstrating that experiments relied upon literature and imagination to facilitate discovery.

Hosted by Dr. Orrin Wang, the book launch was well-attended by both students and faculty members in the D.C. consortium.

group of people, seated and waving

Below are a few excerpts from the lively discussion.

While this may seem like a leap from her first monograph, Designing Women: The Dressing Room in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture (Bucknell University Press), Dr. Chico explains that there is a logical continuity between the two books. In Designing Women, one of the key topics she explores is the satiric trope of intruding into the secret female space. The intellectual problem that Dr. Chico saw in the use of the dressing room was an epistemological one: how do you know things? Upon finishing Designing Women, Dr. Chico recounts how she found Susanna Centlivre’s The Basset Table and the way the main character, Valeria, rejects the ordinary use of a dressing room and turns it into a laboratory. Valeria refuses marry because her father would then destroy her microscope. This, Dr. Chico explains, is what led her in the direction of her second book.

Chico 1

Dr. Chico acknowledges that there were specific feminine activities associated with science in the eighteenth century. She states that women were encouraged to practice botany by the late eighteenth century, but what we retrospectively think of professionalization of science hadn’t yet occurred. The space where scientific experimentation occurred was predominantly in the home. Dr. Chico says, “What this means is that if you’re a young woman of certain means and your family has a microscope, you’re in there doing experiments. Someone like Hooke gets really annoyed because he wants science to be considered very legitimate. He says that microscopes by the 1690s have become a plaything for the ladies.”

Three people applauding

The Experimental Imagination encompasses both science and literature; however, Dr. Chico argues that her work isn’t interdisciplinary, but rather multi-disciplinary: “At the end of the day,” she says, “I’m a literary scholar, and I’m invested in literariness. My job is to understand the role of the literary in the production of knowledge. Science today is vulnerable to political skepticism, in part, because early articulations of scientific objectivity refused to acknowledge the important role of the imagination.” (She talks about this further at Public Seminar.)

Dr. Tita Chico also spoke with April Fuller, co-chair of the ASECS Graduate Student Caucus (GSC).

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

TC: The New 18th Century, edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown, was five years old when I began graduate school, but it was still shaking things up in the field, positing that ideological criticism had an important, even definitional, role in understanding the legacies of the eighteenth century. And Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was published shortly thereafter, giving rise to about 1000 seminar papers on performativity. This was also the time when recovery work was in a second phase, moving beyond finding the lost ‘mothers,’ and thinking more widely about print culture and the opportunities it afforded a range of writers who had not made it into our inherited canon.

Cultural studies, too, was making an important difference in the field, in no small part because it reinvigorated the traditional forms of historicism that long been associated with the texts from the period. In this mix, I found my critical voice and began working on the problem of representational history, inspired also by Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet. I discovered the field of eighteenth-century studies through the brilliance of my thesis advisor at Vassar, Donna Heiland, but I stayed because I found that I had important things to say. Mary Poovey (my director), Laura Brown, Felicity Nussbaum, Ellen Pollak—their example and their work variously helped me understand I had a stake in this field.

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

TC: For contingent faculty, it’s important to understand what your department’s expectations are, and also to have a strong sense of what your own expectations are. Is this a long-term possibility for you? Are you planning to seek employment on the tenure track or in another fora, within higher education or elsewhere? My best advice is always to remember your own value—that you are smart and talented. I think that a specific way of remembering that is being very open with yourself about your limits and having a strong plan ‘B.’

For a tenure-track assistant professor, versions of what I advise above, but also an awareness that you’re starting a multi-year process which culminates with the tenure review. There is too much to do (always), so be forthcoming with yourself and your senior colleagues concerning your short- and long-term goals. This is also the moment to have an extremely clear understanding of your new department’s expectations of you professionally and craft a plan to meet them. If you receive conflicting answers and if the conflict is a matter of substance (i.e., what sort of teaching record one needs to amass, the kinds of publications that ‘count’), then your colleagues need to sort out exactly what they are expecting. The other piece of this is to seek mentorship locally and nationally—within your department and across campus, but also among faculty in the field more generally. And as I say above, remember that you are smart and talented.

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

TC: I am a drafter and a reader. What does this mean? It starts with notes in my notebook. I have one with me at all times and notes for everything related to research, teaching, and The Eighteenth Century, go into it. I’ll page through and make notes on my notes, scribbling, carving out what I mean and what I want to tackle.

When I begin writing, I often delve into close readings. When I write up enough of these, I start pulling them together to see the story of ideas I’m telling. At this point, I print out my pages and read my own prose out loud to myself, walking. I have to be walking! There is something very powerful for me and my thinking to hear my own voice as I move through space. I also don’t become overly attached to my own writing. Sometimes, I need to chuck what I’ve written and start fresh (always keep the footnotes) to write up to my current thinking. And other times, I get discouraged. That’s when I go on a run to think things through.

Lifting my head to look ahead, I work towards deadlines, self-imposed and external (conferences, deadlines for articles and grant applications, for example). And if any of this goes awry, I shrug it off and pick up where I left off.

GSC: 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?

TC: For me, mentoring is advocating, in the fullest sense of that. I see it as my job to recognize what a student’s strengths are and facilitate further development. But I also take seriously the responsibility to help the student compensate for any weaknesses. In practical ways, this means being responsive to a student’s questions and queries and work, bringing the student into the professional conversation. It also means stepping back and letting a student know when something needs improvement. I feel deeply that there is an ethics to mentoring which is expressed, for me, through kindness and rigor.

As for advice about choosing a faculty member, I always recommend that graduate students talk to each other. I have no idea what it is like to work with us! Also, I suggest seeking someone who you feel respects you and will have your best intellectual interests at the forefront over the long term.

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

TC: Our work is too hard not to believe in your own scholarship deeply. Without that commitment, it’s difficult. I always ask my students to research what they really care about: what are the questions that persist for you, over time, in different courses, when you pick up something new? A dissertation prospectus, like comps, is a credentialing exercise. It needs to be a plausible fiction, but it also should not become overwhelming—it is not an end, but the mechanism whereby you can get down to writing.

I suggest working very closely with one’s committee in the early drafting stages, particularly since it is a large intellectual jump to go from writing seminar papers and articles to a dissertation in which the ideas and examples must warrant extended attention. And figuring out if your ideas and examples do that is accomplished through the advising process.

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

TC: I enjoy teaching at all levels of the curriculum. It is such a pleasure to teach introductory classes, where we get to think, often for the first time, about what exactly a metaphor is, how it works, and what it does. And I have a great time with the graduate theory colloquia, where I work with students across campus. But I suppose my eighteenth-century courses will always be my favorites—undergrad and grad. My teaching now is more ambitious and more comfortable. When I began teaching, I was young (and looked even younger), and was (still am) keenly aware of the politics of a young female Ph.D. leading the classroom. Between that and being half Latina, I do not ‘fit’ the so-called stereotype of what an English professor is, dead poet society-ing while jumping up on desks or wearing a tweed sports jacket. As a compensatory strategy, I was a bit formal—I needed to be. Teaching is an embodied practice.

GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

TC: Start applying once you have your dissertation prospectus, which will give you the language, ideas, and framework to apply for grants. I always suggest applying for short-term residential fellowships at research libraries (ASECS has a lot of these), which are quite possible to get. At the University of Maryland, we have the Folger right here, so I also encourage students to apply to seminars at the Institute. Building up a track record of funding helps when you are ready to apply for dissertation fellowships or post-docs.

GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

TC: I recommend one national conference a year (and, if it is close and easy, maybe a second one, a regional conference). Conferences take resources—time and money—and they can be helpful and exciting, but also taxing and distracting. Teaching experience and publications matter much more when you are getting your professional footing. When you attend a conference, soak it all up: the talks, the plenaries, the receptions, the book exhibits, the graduate student meetings and get-togethers. I also suggest that you practice your conference paper in front of colleagues and faculty in your department.

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

TC: I’m at work on a new book on wonder as a heuristic in the disciplinary emergence of literature and science in the long eighteenth century. I’ve written a chapter on wool, am working on the archive, and will then turn to mathematics.

Further reading

“Science Fake and Real: On Enlightenment Scientists and the Forgotten Role of Imagination,” at Public Seminar

Excerpts of The Experimental Imagination at Stanford UP

Five Questions with Jenny Davidson

Tita’s Playlist for The Experimental Imagination at Largehearted Boy

Tita’s parody of academic productivity

GSC Statement

In solidarity with Professor Seo-Young Chu, our colleagues on the Executive Board and throughout the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the Graduate Student Caucus is committed to the ongoing development of policies making explicit our unequivocal opposition to all forms of harassment, discrimination, and abuse. We deeply regret and sincerely apologize for the violence enacted in the 2009 naming of our Graduate Student Mentorship Award in honour of Jay Fliegelman, and we are grateful to Professor Chu for coming forward with her experience. The ASECS Graduate Student Caucus is dedicated to fostering a culture of equity, and condemns the sexual violence and abuses of power committed by Jay Fliegelman. Please read Professor Chu’s essay “A Refuge for Jae-in Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major”, and the recent “ASECS Executive Board Statement on Harassment and Abuse”.

– ASECS Graduate Student Caucus

ASECS Executive Board Statement on Harassment and Abuse

Google doc link

10 November 2017


Along with fellow members of ASECS, the Executive Board read with horror Professor Seo-Young Chu’s essay “A Refuge for Jae-in Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major,” published in Entropy on November 3, 2017, which detailed her rape and abuse at the hands of  the late Stanford University Professor and ASECS member Jay Fliegelman. Last year, when this incident was brought to the Society’s attention, we contacted Professor Chu, and with her permission brought to the ASECS Board and the Graduate Student Caucus, which confers our Graduate Mentorship Award, a proposal to remove his name from this award. The letter Professor Chu addressed to the Board, and which she has now published, moved us deeply. The proposal was accepted unanimously and the name immediately removed from the award. The Board deeply regrets the pain caused to Professor Chu, and perhaps to others, with the initial naming of the award. Professor Chu’s extraordinary courage in bringing the details of her experience to public attention now allows us to make clear the reasons for the name change, and we are grateful that she has called upon our Society more fully to address the problem of harassment and other forms of predatory behavior.

The ASECS Board unequivocally condemns all forms of harassment, discrimination, and abuse, including mistreatment based on sex, race or status. In the months ahead we will be developing policies for incorporation into our bylaws that make clear that harassment and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. This process will require the commitment of our entire membership to join together in a firm endorsement of our standards and values.  On behalf of our Society, we accept this charge, and we thank Professor Chu and our colleagues for their eloquence and passion in urging us forward.

Executive Board of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Susan S. Lanser, President

Dena Goodman, Past President

Melissa Hyde, First Vice President

Jeffrey S. Ravel, Second Vice President

Jill Bradbury, Treasurer

Lisa Berglund, Executive Director

Jenna M. Gibbs, Member at Large

Julia Simon, Member at Large

Lisa Freeman, Member at Large

Tony C. Brown, Member at Large

Mary Terrall, Member at Large

Misty G. Anderson, Member at Large