cccc 2008 in new orleans: the bullet points

CCCC-2008: the crayfish

Last week, I attended my first meeting of the College Conference on Composition and Communication. Herewith, some random bullet points:

  • I gave a paper in which I outed myself as someone who suffers from (and receives medical care for) sometimes debilitating anxiety and depression. And whaddya know? I guess I’m outing myself here, too.
  • I joined the CCCC special interest group devoted to disability studies and volunteered to develop the website.
  • I learned a lot. (Don’t laugh. I’ve been to conferences where that wasn’t the case.)
  • I talked a bit with Jeff, Jenny, and Derek at the hotel bar. I chatted briefly with Donna at the airport. I saw Clancy and Byron from afar but did not get to chat. I know other bloggers attended, but I did not see them…I fell down on the job at arranging meetups, and for that I feel somewhat guilty.
  • I attended the Bedford/St. Martin’s party at the NOLA Aquarium and couldn’t stop thinking about how much my students pay for their textbooks…and felt more than a little guilty about the free food and drink those textbook prices make possible. I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop using textbooks in my composition classrooms.
  • I ate two oyster poboys, gumbo, jambalaya, and a lot of Abita beer.
  • I spent a lot of time with UMKC people, who I miss. But I returned home happy to be where I am now.
  • I did not spend enough time in the interesting places right at the outskirts of the French Quarter, in which Bourbon Street remains a kind of Disneyland filtered through Larry Flynt’s eyes. But I was glad to find those interesting places.

I’m tagging the links I find related to the conference. If you’ve written about it, or know of relevant links, go ahead and add them to using the tag cccc-2008. And I hope to write more about the conference as well as bloggers’ reactions, time permitting. However, the days are pretty busy here at the end of the semester in Sparkletonia. In a perfect world, I’d post an mp3 of my talk. We’ll see…

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methodism, orality, and literacy

Any academics out there want to read the draft of an article I’m working on? I really need some outside perspective. If you don’t have time or inclination to read the whole thing, do you have any suggestions for recent scholarly work on the interplay of orality and literacy? Here’s the introduction:

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the British religious movement known as Methodism created a sophisticated communications network. This network incorporated not only print, through the publication and distribution of millions of pages of material in a variety of formats, but also speech, specifically the highly systematized oral practice of hundreds of itinerant preachers at hundreds of Methodist preaching houses. Little scholarship on Methodists and print culture has appeared in recent years, which is surprising, given their prolific publishing and the recent growth of print culture studies. Similarly, although some have addressed Wesley’s reliance upon traveling lay preachers, we have yet to see a satisfactorily detailed picture of the preachers’ role in taking the movement’s message to hundreds of thousands of listeners. The histories of sound and of auditory culture are attracting a growing number of scholars who would do well to turn their attention to preaching.

However, any scholarship on eighteenth-century print culture or speech arguably provides a flawed, partial view of the communicative practices of the period by ignoring the dynamic interactions of literate and oral practices to focus on either independently. In fact, such independent focus risks adopting uncritically a limited conception of language first fully developed in the eighteenth century. Nicholas Hudson has traced the “slow and uncertain” emergence during this period of the concept of “oral tradition,” a belief that a “substantial body of knowledge or literature could be preserved without the use of letters.” Although, as Hudson explains, this concept gradually lost its controversial status, it leaves us with our modern understanding of orality and literacy as separate spheres of habit and thought. Counter to this understanding, D. F. McKenzie has argued persuasively that different modes of communication interact in complex ways: “None surrenders its place entirely; all undergo some adjustment as new forms arrive and new complicities of interest and function emerge.”

Following McKenzie’s lead, this essay analyzes early Methodism’s simultaneous embrace of the pulpit and the press, an embrace that placed the movement at the intersection of oral and literate cultures in Britain and that complicates any easy formulation of orality and literacy as separate cultures. For eighteenth-century Methodists, not only was the printed word enmeshed in a world of speech, but the spoken word often relied upon print in order to be most effective. What follows is an analysis of Methodist preaching, of Methodist publishing, and of the ways in which these two practices became inseparable. Finally, a discussion of one early Methodist publishing project, The Arminian Magazine, clearly illustrates the ways in which oral and literate practices complemented and competed with each other.

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maybe put my picture back on the fridge

Half of those who responded to the survey I posted in early January said they would like me to write more about my research. For a few years there I was making regular trips to England and digging in the archives, finding a great deal of very interesting material. Now I’m in something of a different mode, where I feel that I should devote more energy to writing up the results of my research and getting it published. I would like to say I’ve made more progress on that front, but after one of the worst years of my life, the fact that I’m still alive is good enough for me. Now, however, I’m working on getting back into getting back into getting back into my research.

Here are three trains of thought I’m pursuing at the moment:

  1. Generally speaking, I’m wondering whether I want to publish a monograph, or whether I want to publish a series of articles. [Dr. Crazy, Jason Jones, and Jeff Rice have each recently published great blog entries on publishing “the book.”] I know that the scholarly monograph carries a great deal of professional weight, but do I really think that such a project will make as much of an impact as several well written articles placed in diverse journals? And will I be as satisfied by writing a book as I will by writing several articles? What if we take the question of what’s best for me professionally out of the picture? What if the questions instead are about disciplinary impact and personal satisfaction?
  2. More specifically, I have an article I’ve been sitting on for far too long. I was encouraged to revise and resubmit, but I was so irritated by the comments that one reader gave me that I’ve been sort of procrastinating. Here’s the thing: I’m writing on something about which some senior scholars have long-held beliefs that are not necessarily supported by the available evidence. This reader scoffed at one of my claims, saying that I had my numbers wrong by a factor of 10. I don’t, but I know why this reader would think so. I suspect this reader has not conducted the level of research I have. The original manuscript document, made in the eighteenth century and held in a British library, features the original, correct number. The manuscript copy, also made in the eighteenth century and held in an America library, features an incorrect number: the copyist simply dropped a zero. I’ve seen both documents. If all you’ve seen is the copy, then you would assume one of my claims is overblown. It’s not. I should get over it, I know, and just resubmit the article with my substantial revisions. The misunderstanding regarding this number isn’t even the major issue. But the feedback came at a time when I was feeling underappreciated by my own institution regarding the research that I was doing, so I was not prepared to digest the valid comments along with the ones I disagreed with.
  3. The extended deadline on the call for papers below strikes me as a sign that one of my pieces needs to come out of my intellectual deep freezer and into the warmth of attentive development. I have a ton of notes and about half an article or so on a particular preacher and his heavily annotated Bible. Some longtime readers might remember me talking about this research in a previous blogging life. I’m confident I can make this into a valuable contribution to the field.

I suppose I could say there’s a fourth item: a famous preacher’s posthumously published sermons might not really be his, and there are more of his sermons published posthumously than published during his lifetime. Cue dramatic music: Dunh-dunh-duh! I already had my suspicions, but when I found a debate about the matter in the back pages of one of the eighteenth-century periodicals I was researching a couple of summers ago, that sealed the deal. I have some ideas for how to tackle this mystery, but it’s much more at the early stages than these other two article projects.

Anyhoo, here’s the CFP I mentioned. I will do my best to blog the process of working out these three trains of thought. Your feedback, as always, is welcome.

According to Jean-Paul Sartre, “a concrete act called
reading” is necessary for a text to become a literary
object. LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory is
soliciting critical, historical, and theoretical
explorations of the act of reading. Suggested
questions are: How should the act of reading be
conceived? How do historical, social, and cultural
conditions shape the reception of texts? How have
readings of texts changed historically? How do gender,
race, sexual orientation, and other categories of
social difference factor into reader response and the
reception of texts? How does one read across these
categories of social difference? Submissions should
engage with specific literary texts, range from
5,000-10,000 words, and must be in MLA style. Guest Editor: Patsy Schweickart, Purdue University. Send three copies to

Regina Barreca, Editor
LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory
University of Connecticut
Department of English
215 Glenbrook Rd.,
Unit 4025
Storrs, CT 06269-4025

Deadline for
submissions: July 15, 2007.

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catching you up

Tuesday night we saw Henry IV, Part 2, and while I have no complaints about the production, it’s just not as good of a play as 1H4 or Henvy V. Too many scenes drag on with dialogue and exposition; I feel that way when I read the play, and I felt that way watching it. I saw a production in 1995 at the D.C. Shakespeare Theatre where they performed part 1 and part 2 back to back. I wish I remembered enough of that production to compare, but the only thing I can recall is that they cut many of the comic scenes in order to limit the time. Hmm…still and all, I’m glad to have seen these performances. Every good production of Shakespeare is another interpretation worth putting into memory.

Last night William St. Clair lectured on “The Political Economy of Reading,” a lecture that was very good and very well attended. St. Clair has written a book (free sample chapter) that is making quite a stir in book history circles, not so much for the conclusions he draws from the evidence he has gathered, but rather for his methodology and for the massive amount of evidence he has gathered. He has modelled an approach that is staggering in its comprehensive survey of the available historical data, and he has also presented his data–in a huge series of appendices–in a way that will be very useful to other book historians. One of the best lines from his introduction is this one:

The history of reading is at the stage of astronomy before telescopes, economics before statistics, heavily reliant on a few commonly repeated traditional narratives and favorite anecdotes, but weak on the spade-work of basic empirical research, quantification, consolidation, and scrutiny of primary information, upon which both narrative history and theory ought to rest.

Something tells me we’re going to see that one quoted a good bit in the next few years.

Let me tell you, sometimes it feels like it’s a small academic world, as I keep seeing people I know from academic conferences and other venues. I attended last night’s lecture with my friend Nancy and Ian Gadd (whom I know from past SHARP conferences), and Ian’s friend and collaborator Patrick Wallis. In the audience were probably a half dozen people I recognized from events that have taken place in years past as far away as Lyons, France or Springfield, Missouri. It’s really not so hard to believe, I suppose, as

  1. the British Library (and environs) is one of the most important places to work if you want to do serious archival research, and
  2. if you were a book or literary historian in London yesterday, St. Clair’s lecture was the hot ticket.

There was a nice reception after the lecture (open bar! woo-hoo!), during which I was privy to some interesting talk about how St. Clair’s argument was going over, and then the four of us went out for Italian food. I am quite allergic to something here, and I had a sneezing fit during dinner, but I managed to recover. After a night cap at a pub, I made it home to my sweltering room by about 11:30 or so.

Research continues to go well, though no stunning finds are presenting themselves lately. Instead, a more complete picture of the publishing scene is now visible to me. I spent some quality time with the English Short Title Catalogue database yesterday morning, searching on titles I have gathered of late eighteenth-century religious periodicals to find out if they’re available at the BL or on microfilm. The database is also useful to seeing when, where, and for how long these publications existed, and who was involved with printing and selling them. I used to live on the ESTC when in grad school at a university that subscribed to it. Oh, precious ESTC! How I have missed you!

I’m about to head in for another day’s work, but I want to say that one of the most incredible things about working at the BL is that you can get your hands on just about any book you might possibly need. Provided it’s not something incredibly rare, like a Gutenberg Bible, they’ll pull it up for you and let you read it. Anything.

Amazing. I am extremely lucky.

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