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Loyola University Chicago Victorian Society Conference

Loyola University Chicago Victorian Society Conference

On Saturday, October 29th, 2016, the Loyola University Chicago Victorian Society hosted professors and graduate students from a variety of Chicago institutions such as UIC and University of Chicago, while others traveled to Lake Shore Campus from other states and countries. Generously sponsored by the Graduate School, the Department of English, and Dr. Paul Eggert, Martin J. Svaglic Chair of Textual Studies, LUCVS’s inaugural day conference “Past and Present: New Directions in Victorian Studies” focused firstly on new interpretations of Victorian investment in establishing the historical importance of the past and future significance of developments in their own time. Secondly, scholars grappled with how certain aspects of Victorian life and culture are historicized in the present day, specifically querying as to what directions the field of Victorian Studies is currently taking in a variety of focalizations. Thirdly, readings of the Victorian period provoked examination of the reasons behind the development of contemporary interpretative lenses. 

After a beautiful sunrise and donut and coffee breakfast at 8am, Dr. Patricia Mooney-Melvin, Interim Dean of the Graduate School, started off the conference by asserting that historical and literary periods alike are marked and defined by technological advances and connections that have never been made before. Dr. Melissa Bradshaw of the Writing Center Program introduced academics Dr. Anna Kornbluh (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Dr. Benjamin Morgan (University of Chicago) both founding members of the V21 Collective, an organization described as being devoted to defetishizing the archival and resisting the genealogical trajectory of historical study common in contemporary Victorian Studies. Kornbluh and Morgan gave a joint presentation for the morning plenary, a talk that anticipated and foregrounded some of the major themes for the day. Both papers responded to the need to move beyond positivist historicism in Victorian studies. They suggested that a renewed study of form/formalism and a kind of "presentism"—that does not reduce literature and the past to a mere instrument—might offer possible avenues for moving forward.

The conference continued with four panels, each dealing with a different topic of Victorian research and social theory. Panel 1: "Realism" investigated how realism appeared in various forms within famous Victorian novels, emphasizing the contrasting portrayal of objects of production and ephemera in 20th-21st century literature. Next, Panel 2: "Labor and Dickens" focused on Charles Dickens’s use of narrative length, timeframe, and metaphorical imagery to form the landscape of his novels. After lunch and conversation, Panel 3: "History" examined obscure Victorian perspectives on history, as evident in adult and children's books from the period. The last panel of the day, Panel 4: "Art History" focused on Victorian attitudes to establishing the language, meaning, and form of art in their own period. These presentations were all well received and provoked lively discussions during the Q&A sessions.

Dr. Micael Clarke (Associate Professor of English) introduced the keynote speaker Dr. Elaine Hadley, (University of Chicago). Clarke applauded the dedication Hadley has shown to guiding students towards a self-aware approach both to education and developing their own future careers in teaching and other fields. Hadley spoke on theories of human capital and its relationship to contemporary economics, citing the work of Gary Becker in particular. She contrasted the economics of human capital, which insists that self-investment results in a return on said investment, with the economics of higher education, which historically insists that education is its own reward even exclusive of further earning potential. Hadley claimed that this is a false dichotomy, as higher education and liberal arts are retreating into the intangible benefit theory despite the increasing job-training emphasis on college degrees in the university at large. Acknowledging that there are no easy answers to this issue, Hadley concluded by generally referencing the problem as it appears in English and/or Victorian studies.

An evening wine and cheese reception followed Dr. Hadley’s talk at which much mirth and lively conversation was had before the day conference concluded. LUCVS would like to thank all participants and LUCVS members who came together to arrange this event, particularly our guest speakers, members, sponsors, and Dr. Melissa Bradshaw and Dr. Micael Clarke for their unfailing encouragement and helpful advice on all sorts of matters. We look forward to announcing next year’s theme soon on our website: http://lucvictoriansociety.wixsite.com/lucvs/about-lucvs

Write-up by Lydia Craig, doctoral candidate in English