Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome to the Fall Semester!

The faculty of the English Department of the George Washington University welcomes all of our students to campus and to class.

Best wishes for a very successful year.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

GW MEMSI Annual Report for 2009-10

Annual Report for 2008-09

Submitted by Jeffrey J. Cohen, Director

Affiliated Faculty

  • Jeffrey J. Cohen, Professor and Chair of English
  • Leah Chang, Assistant Professor of Romance, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Holly Dugan, Assistant Professor of English
  • Gil Harris, Professor of English
  • Jonathan Hsy, Assistant Professor of English
  • Jehangir Y. Malegam, Assistant Professor of History
  • Marcy Norton, Associate Professor of History
  • Linda Levy Peck, Columbian Professor of History
  • Lynn Westwater, Assistant Professor of Romance, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures; Director of the Italian Program
  • Andrew Zimmerman, Associate Professor of History

Mission and Overview

The GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute aims to create an internationally renowned space to research the literature, history, and culture of early Europe, especially within a global framework. We foster ambitious humanities research that connects present and past. A joint initiative of ten GW faculty, GW MEMSI was founded with the support of twenty-two scholars from the DC area (Georgetown, AU, CU, UMD, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Shakespeare Theatre). We now maintain an electronic mailing list of over one hundred names. The Institute is primarily focused upon research at the highest level. Monographs, essays in peer reviewed journals, and innovative doctoral dissertations are our most esteemed tangible outcomes. Yet GW MEMSI is also founded upon a principle of capacious outreach, especially towards undergraduates and scholars who do not work directly in medieval or Renaissance fields but who have much to gain through interdisciplinary, cross-time period collaboration. Simply put, while we aim to be a preeminent humanities institute, we also cultivate the next generation of field-changing researchers.

Ambitions for Year One (2008-09)

We wrote in our application for REF funding:

The first year will be devoted to allowing the institute to realize its full potential as catalyst to enduring community ... We will hold four interdisciplinary research meetings, two each semester. These meetings will be traditional research paper presentations mixed with planning and community building. We will also sponsor visits by four scholars of international renown who work on topics related to the institute’s focus upon globalized early Europe. These high-profile visits have two objectives: to deepen the collective knowledge of the institute and refine its research aims; and to advertise the existence of the institute to scholars well placed to grow and disseminate our reputation ... A small group of us will visit established Medieval and Early Modern Studies institutes at other universities in order to articulate a set of “best practices” [and] to learn about the challenges these successful institutes have faced, and what strategies they have employed to secure external funding.


We are happy to report that we have had a very successful inaugural year with the following results:

  1. Three meetings of our research in progress seminar, where local and visiting scholars present new work for feedback, challenge, and discussion. Each of these meetings attracted between 15-25 faculty and graduate students as well as a sprinkling of interested undergraduates. Presenters and topics:

· Marcia Kupfer, Art History, Ohio State University, "Abraham Circumcises Himself: A Scene at the Endgame of Jewish Utility to Christian Art"

· April Shelford, History, American University, “Reading and Enlightenment in 18th-century Jamaica”

· Andrea Frisch, French, U Maryland, "The Poetics of Forgetting in Sixteenth-century France"

  1. An extraordinarily successful inaugural symposium called “Touching the Past.” We had 55 attendees who traveled from as far away as New York to hear four renowned presenters speak about their research on the interrelation of past and present:

· Peggy McCracken (Professor of French and Women's Studies and Associate Dean, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan)

· Eileen Joy (Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English Language and Literature, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)

· Julian Yates (Associate Professor of English and Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware)

· Carolyn Dinshaw (Professor of English and Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University)

  1. A book launch for Gil Harris's Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare and Marcy Norton's Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. We styled the event along the lines of a literary reading in order to gather a group of people who would not ordinarily attend an event at which Renaissance scholarship is being discussed. About 35 people came from around DC and throughout the university.
  2. A series of talks called “Gateway Lectures” aimed at introducing undergraduates to important topics in advanced research in the field, and at bringing emergent methodologies to established scholars. The three lectures were attended by 80, 45, and 65 people respectively. Each presenter then spent less formally structured time with GW graduate students and faculty. All three have agreed to collaborate with GW MEMSI on future projects. The presenters were:

· David Wallace (Judith Rodin Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania) "Writing after Catastrophe: Conceptualizing Literary History and the Boundaries of Europe, 1348-1400"

· Lytton Smith (Columbia University), "The Unending Medieval and the Edges of Poetry."

· Stephanie Trigg (Professor of English at the University of Melbourne), “"Mythic Capital: Medievalism, Heritage Culture, and the Order of the Garter, 1348-2008."

  1. Sponsored the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference in Washington DC (a gathering of 800 Shakespeare experts from around the world)
  2. Sponsored “How to Get the Medieval Studies You Want: Institutional Perspectives,” a panel at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. The panel featured five medievalists who have founded institutes, initiated book series, or gained significant grant money for their projects and was attended by 75 people. Topics and participants were:

· Communities and Networks on the Margins (Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne)

· Post-Institutional Assemblages and the Desiring Machine of BABEL (Eileen A. Joy, Southern Illinois Univ.–Edwardsville)

· The Medieval Studies You Might Not Want (Carolyn Dinshaw, New York University)

· Publish or Perish (Ethan Knapp, Ohio State University)

· Interdisciplinary/Pluridisciplinary Medieval Studies Programs, and How Louis Menand Can Ruin Your Life: Perspectives from a Program Director (Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist University)

The panel proved so successful in gathering information on best practices for medieval and early modern studies institutes that the money that had been allocated for site visits was used to send two affiliated graduate students to major professional conferences, where they presented their dissertation work in progress.

  1. Submitted a proposal to the Arete Initiative of the University of Chicago to fund “Virtue and Its Histories: Time, Disciplinary Fixations, and the Limits of the Human” as part of the “New Science of Virtue” grant competition. GW MEMSI would have sponsored the project along with Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville), Jessica Palmer (AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, National Institutes of Health, and Office of Science Policy and Communications) and Jonah Lehrer (editor at large for Seed magazine and author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist). We proposed the project in order to connect our research concerns to an important emergent topic in the humanities and social sciences. Total budget $257,500 over two years. Not funded.
  2. Established an electronic mailing (more than 100 names) and a website to showcase our activities ( The website has been accessed more than 10,000 times.
  3. We realize that our Institute will have a rapid impact on GW’s research reputation only if we advertise it widely. In addition to sponsoring the Shakespeare conference and the high profile Kalamazoo session, publicity came in the form of an article in By George, a press release by GW Media relations and the CCAS newsletter, and a mailing of postcards that directed scholars in the field to our website.

Summary of Outcomes

Visiting scholars and the circulation of ideas are the lifeblood of a thriving humanities institute. Through the inaugural symposium, the research seminars, and the Gateway Lecture series, GW MEMSI was able to bring eleven distinguished scholars to campus. We publicized and created forums for our work via sponsorship of professional meetings and sessions at conferences, and we contributed to the training and professionalization of our graduate students (about twelve GW doctoral and MA students are affiliated with GW MEMSI). The session we put together at Kalamazoo served the dual purpose of giving the institute wide publicity and allowing us to gather information about the budget process, administrative structure, and mission of medieval and early modern studies institutes at comparable institutes. We discovered that we have achieved more in our first year of life than many of these achieve in several years of operation. We did not obtain outside grant funding, but we will submit two more applications in this next year.


GW MEMSI faculty list the following as samples of published research from the past year:

· Leah Chang, Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France (University of Delaware Press, June 2009)

· Jeffrey Cohen: Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages: Archipelago, Island, England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), editor; “Time out of Memory.” The Post-Historical Middle Ages, ed. Sylvia Federico and Elizabeth Scala (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 37-61.

· Gil Harris: Shakespeare and Literary Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2010); Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); an edition of Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday (London: Methuen/New Mermaids, 2008); “The Untimely Mammet of Verona,” in Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lutpon (eds.), Points of Departure: Political Theology and the Scenes of Early Modernity, edited collection under review; “Alain Badiou’s Vanishing Jewish Letter,” in Kenneth Reinhard (ed.), Alin Badiou and the Jews, edited collection under review, University of Chicago Press; “Shakespeare and Race,” in Stanley Wells and Margreta de Grazia (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming); “Mercantilism,” in Patricia Parker (ed.), The Shakespeare Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, forthcoming); “Disease,” in Patricia Parker (ed.), The Shakespeare Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, forthcoming); “Shakespeare after 5/11,” Shakespeare Yearbook (forthcoming 2009); “Ludgate Time: Simon Eyre’s Oath and the Temporal Economies of The Shoemaker’s Holiday,” Huntington Library Quarterly 71 (2008): 11-35; “Usurers of Colour: The Taint of Jewish Transnationality in Mercantilist Literature and The Merchant of Venice,” in Helen Ostovich and Mary Silcox (eds.), The Mysterious and the Foreign in Early Modern Europe (Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 2008): 158-81.

· Jonathan Hsy, “‘Oure Occian’: Littoral Language and the Constance Narratives of Chaucer and Boccaccio” in Europe and Its Others: Mediterranean Interperceptions, eds. Paul Gifford and Tessa Hauswedell (Peter Lang, forthcoming); “Translation, Suspended: Literary Code-Switching and Poetry of Sea Travel” in The Medieval Translator/Traduire au Moyen Âge, Vol. 12, eds. Denis Renevey and Christiania Whitehead (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009) pp. 133-145.

· Marcy Norton, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World (Cornell University Press, 2008).

· Lynne Westwater, “Petrarch’s Lettere disperse,” The Complete Petrarch: A Life's Work (1304-1374), ed. Victoria Kirkham and Armando Maggi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); “Women’s Writing in Seventeenth-Century Venice,” Storia di Venezia. Donne a Venezia in Età Moderna. Conference proceedings from international conference (May 2008), published online April 2009. <>; “A Cloistered Nun Abroad: Arcangela Tarabotti’s International Literary Career.” Intersections: Yearbook for Early Modern Studies. Volume 14 (2009): Women Writing Back, Writing Women Back: Transnational Perspectives from the Late Middle Ages to the Dawn of the Modern Era, forthcoming; critical edition of Letters of Arcangela Tarabotti. Prepared for “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe” series, eds. Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, Jr. (translated and edited with Meredith Ray).

Impact of the Institute on Faculty Research

Because humanities research advances through intangibles such as ideas and is refined through conversation and dialogue, it is notoriously difficult to measure the effect of innovative structures. When asked what the impact on their scholarship and research has been, however, GW MEMSI faculty offered the following:

  • GW MEMSI certainly had its influence on a number of my publications: most notably, I presented a crucial chapter of a book at one of the MEMSI colloquia, and the comments of the participants helped me to reshape the chapter as I completed the final draft. I would add that the transnational emphasis of MEMSI has also informed my recent work on global polychronicities and the problem of local identiarianisms.
  • GW MEMSI events were regularly attended by myself and Early Modern Europe graduate students, and formed a vital community of early modernists to sustain intellectual exchange.
  • GW MEMSI is important for my work in two ways. First, it provides me a forum for meeting and interacting more closely with colleagues who share similar interests. Second, it provides stimulating exposure to issues outside the usual geographic and temporal scope of my work, exposure that has proved enriching and productive to my research.
  • I think the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute has been a great success this past year. I have found it personally satisfying on two levels: first, through our monthly seminars, organized colloquia, and talks by invited speakers, MEMSI is solidifying interdepartmental and interdisciplinary relationships among faculty both within GW and in the medieval and early modern community in the DC area – I have met several faculty who I foresee will be important interlocutors in my future projects. Secondly, many of our speakers and colleagues who have shared their work with us have helped me set the theoretical framework for my next project on maternity and nation in early modern France. Except for one speaker, none of these projects have treated my topic or even my area of specialization directly. I mention this because I think the MEMSI seminars are influential to my work in a different, perhaps more important way: by engaging with work from other early modern-focused fields in such an intimate way, I have found myself inevitably reconceptualizing my own work in ways that are quite different from the methodological and conceptual approaches that are typical of my own specialization, and that will lead, I hope, to new inroads in the field.
  • As an early career scholar I find the Institute most productively supports my research by facilitating active collaboration with scholars across institutions, disciplines, and different stages of professional development. A work I presented at an early GW-MEMSI meeting received helpful feedback from Institute members (including scholars from other fields and methodological approaches) and it now forms the basis of a chapter in my book monograph; a revised version of it will also appear in a peer reviewed collection that includes a contribution by one of the Institute's invited speakers (David Wallace) - this collection is tentatively titled Medieval Englishness and the Sea (Cambridge: Brewer, in progress). Insofar as professional development is concerned, the Institute's symposia, workshops, and conversations (formal and informal) continue to help me establish a scholarly voice, interrogate my own methodological approaches, and address a wider range of readers beyond a narrow specialization.
  • GW MEMSI continually invited me to think outside of my disciplinary box. Finding a community of medievalists and early modernists to interact with and to challenge me has been a real catalyst to getting significant new research accomplished. I also appreciated the number of people from outside the field who attended the events.

Plans for 2010-11

We already have scheduled two high profile research seminars, one of which has a significant electronic component; two meetings of the work in progress seminar; and a fuller series of Gateway Lectures. The faculty affiliated with the program will form a subgroup dedicated to seeking and applying for external funding, with the aim of completing two funding applications by the spring. In the spring we will hold an interdisciplinary colloquium on "Europe in a Transnational Frame." From this event will emerge the agenda of the conference to be sponsored by the institute in the 2010-11 cycle. We will begin looking into sponsored publishing ventures. We will also widen our membership to include GW faculty who were not involved in the original proposal. We feel that the Institute has become a vital contributor to the humanities research landscape at GW and would like to enable the participation of as many interested scholars and students as practical.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What Good is a Department Blog?

With the new semester comes a new readership for the GW English blog. You'll find much useful information on this website, including:
Have suggestions for more you'd like to see here? Please email the chair, Jeffrey Cohen (

So please subscribe to our RSS feed, friend us on Facebook ... and stay up to date with your friends in the GW English Department.

Orientation for New Graduate Students

from Gil Harris, Director of Graduate Studies:
This year's English Graduate Student Orientation is scheduled for Wednesday, August 26, from 9:00 till 11:00 am in Rome 771. All new graduate students -- including first-year BA/MA students, entering MA students, and entering PhD students -- are expected to attend, but everyone else is welcome too, especially faculty teaching graduate seminars this semester.

The schedule for the orientation is as follows:

9:00 Waking up: coffee snacks
9:10 Welcome, Introductions: Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, DGS
9:20 The Program and the University
9:20 Tara Wallace, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, CCAS
9:30 Carla Vargas, Advanced Degree Program Coordinator
9:40 The Program in English
9:50 Study in Medieval/Early Modern: Professor Jonathan Hsy
10:00 Study in 19th century: Professor Judith Plotz
10:10 Study in 20th century: Professor Marshall Alcorn
10:20 Progress in the Program
a. Developing a program of study: Jessica Frazier, Charlotte Merrick
b. Taking the qualifying and field exams: Lowell Duckert, Anne Showalter
c. The EGSA (English Graduate Students Association): Nedda Mehdizadeh, President
10:50 Conclusion: Questions and Discussion

Looking forward to seeing many of you on the 26th, and to seeing you all in person some time soon.

Enjoy the last shards of summer!

Gil Harris

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can you help?

The new semester is almost upon us: alarmingly (at least to me) GW classes begin BEFORE Labor Day this year. I am certain that some cosmic injunction has been broken, and am hard at work trying to stop it ... but without much success so far.

This summer we have been renovating Rome Hall 771, the beloved English Department seminar room. If you are a current student or graduated after 1993, you know the space I am talking about, since you spent long hours enraptured by professorial pontificating within. The room was worn to the point of being embarrassingly shabby. When alumnus Jason Filardi arrived to teach a course on screenwriting last spring, we eventually had to relocate him because the only technology the room possessed was a malfunctioning VCR/DVD player attached to an ancient monitor. Meanwhile three chairs had collapsed, in one case toppling a faculty member. Although I ordinarily live for such moments of unexpected comedy, I also realize that furniture ought not to present a hazard to classroom wellbeing.

Once the renovation is complete the room will possess a new carpet, fresh paint, new chairs and tables, a computer mounted in a lectern, a drop-down screen, a white board, and a ceiling mounted projector. Yes, I know, these are the features that any contemporary classroom ought to have, but believe me when I say that Rome 771 would never have been equipped with any of these had I not opened the departmental coffers (such as they are) to do so. Fortunately a gift contributed by the Rose family several years ago enabled us to instigate the renovation process. We are now nearing completion, and with completion comes the bill. If you have ever done even the smallest home improvement project you know where this is going: that bill is of course going to be much steeper than we initially anticipated. You can't replace a lightswitch at GW without the electrical team doing a detailed study.

So, as department chair I am requesting that you consider supporting the renewal of this space that forms the heart of our department. Our students take their creative writing and literature classes here. Our faculty meet here. This is our space for seminars and symposia, for events open to alumni and the public. Any contribution you can make will be received with gratitude. You may mail a check made out to GW (memo line: English, sent care of Adancement Office, 801 22nd St NW, Suite 212, Washington DC 20052) or you may use a credit card and contribute via this link, but please ensure that you designate your contribution for the ENGLISH DEPARTMENT. All contributions are fully tax deductible and your name will be featured on this blog. We might even compose a sonnet about you.

We thank you for your support!

Jeffrey Cohen

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

GW MEMSI Seminar on Messianic Time and the Untimely

Please join us on Thursday September 17 at 4PM for our inaugural event of the 2009-10 year, a seminar entitled

"Messianic Time and the Untimely"

Three papers will be pre-circulated by email on September 1, and should be read in advance by all who plan to attend. On September 17, we will have short presentations followed by open discussion. The presenters are:

1. Kathleen Biddick, "Dead Neighbor Archives and Messianic Time"
2. Julia Lupton, "Paul Shakespeare: Exegetical Exercises"
3. Jonathan Gil Harris, ""The Untimely Mammet of Verona"

The event is free and welcomes all who would like to attend, but space is limited and preregistration is required. To reserve a space and receive the papers in advance, email Lowell Duckert as soon as possible:

The seminar will be held in the conference room of the English Department of the George Washington University (Room 771, 801 22nd Street NW Washington DC 20052).

Monday, August 3, 2009

"The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility, and Disability"

As announced previously, on Friday October 23 at 5 PM, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson will deliver the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies. She will be introduced by Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English Literature José Muñoz. GW President Steven Knapp will give the university welcome.

Professor Garland-Thomson is a founder of Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary approach to literature and culture that examines (among many other things) how the normal is created, and who is excluded from that category.

Her talk will be entitled The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility, and Disability. She will explore a contradiction in contemporary American culture between the political/architectural initiative to integrate people with disabilities into the public sphere through creating an accessible, barrier-free built environment and the medical/technological initiative to eliminate people with disabilities from the human community. She will do so by enlisting built space to exemplify a particular cultural understanding of disability.

Fat Studies in the New Yorker

The Fat Studies Reader, a collection of essays to which GW English graduate student Julia McCrossin contributed a piece, was mentioned in a recent New Yorker article:

So what’s wrong with putting on an extra pound, or ten pounds, or, for that matter, a hundred and ten? According to the contributors to “The Fat Studies Reader” (forthcoming from New York University; $27), nothing. The movement known variously as “size acceptance,” “fat acceptance,” “fat liberation,” and “fat power” has been around for more than four decades; in 1967, at a “fat-in” staged in Central Park, participants vilified Twiggy, burned diet books, and handed out candy. More recently, fat studies has emerged as a field of scholarly inquiry; four years ago, the Popular Culture Association/American Cultural Association added a fat-studies component to its national conferences, and in 2006 Smith College hosted a three-day seminar titled “Fat and the Academy.”

Among the founding principles of the discipline is that weight is not a dietary issue but a political one. “Fat studies is a radical field, in the sense that it goes to the root of weight-related belief systems,” Marilyn Wann, who describes herself as five feet four and two hundred and eighty-five pounds, writes in her foreword to the “Reader.” Kathleen LeBesco, a communications professor at Marymount Manhattan College and another contributor, has put it this way:

Fat people are widely represented in popular culture and in interpersonal interactions as revolting—they are agents of abhorrence and disgust. But if we think about “revolting” in a different way . . . in terms of overthrowing authority, rebelling, protesting, and rejecting, then corpulence carries a whole new weight as a subversive cultural practice.

According to the authors of “The Fat Studies Reader,” the real problem isn’t the sudden surge in obesity in this country but the surge in stories about obesity. Weight, by their account, is, like race or sex or bone structure, a biological trait over which individuals have no—or, in the case of fat, very limited—control. A “societal fat phobia,” Natalie Boero, a sociology professor at San Jose State University, writes, “in part explains why the ‘obesity epidemic’ is only now beginning to be critically deconstructed.”

Undeniably, the fat—the authors of “The Reader” are adamant advocates for the “f” word—are subject to prejudice and even cruelty. A 2008 report by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, at Yale, noted that teachers consistently hold lower expectations of overweight children, and that three out of five of the heaviest kids have been teased at school. The same people who are repelled by racist or misogynistic humor seem to feel that it is perfectly acceptable to make fat jokes.