Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two more!

Two more faculty books emerged into print this past week, just in time for the annual MLA book expo. So, to continue our own in-house book expo, I thought I'd post announcements here.

The first (alphabetically speaking) is by Gordon Hutner, who directs The Trowbridge Office for American Literature, Culture, & Society here and who is also the founding editor of the journal American Literary History (link to the journal on Project Muse here). Since Gordon does so much to foster and facilitate the work of others in the venues he runs, it is especially gratifying to announce the publication of his newest book What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920-1960 (The University of North Carolina Press).

Here is the book description provided by the press: "Despite the vigorous study of modern American fiction, today's readers are only familiar with a partial shelf of a vast library. Gordon Hutner describes the distorted, canonized history of the twentieth-century American novel as a record of modern classics insufficiently appreciated in their day but recuperated by scholars in order to shape the grand tradition of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. In presenting literary history this way, Hutner argues, scholars have forgotten a rich treasury of realist novels that recount the story of America's confrontation with modernity.
Hutner explains that realist novels were frequently lauded when they first appeared. They are almost completely unread now, he contends, largely because they record the middle-class encounter with modern life. This middle-class realism, Hutner shows, reveals a surprising engagement with the social issues that most fully challenged readers in the United States, including race relations, politics, immigration, and sexuality. Reading these novels now offers an extraordinary opportunity to witness debates about what kind of nation America would become and what place its newly dominant middle class would have—and, Hutner suggests, should also lead us to wonder how our own contemporary novels will be remembered."

The second new book I want to announce is by Feisal Mohamed, an Assistant Professor here who specializes in Milton and Seventeenth Century British literature. If you've been reading this fledgling blog, you'll have met the exceedingly industrious Dr. Mohamed before--as conference organizer and radio personality. Now meet him as author. Feisal's new book, hot off the press, is called In the Anteroom of Divinity: The Reformation of the Angels from Colet to Milton (University of Toronto Press).

Here is the book description: "In the Anteroom of Divinity focuses on the persistence of Pseudo-Dionysian angelology in England's early modern period. Beginning with a discussion of John Colet's commentary on Dionysisus's twin hierarchies, Feisal G. Mohamed explores the significance of the Dionysian tradition to the conformism debate of the 1590s through works by Richard Hooker and Edmund Spenser. He then turns to John Donne and John Milton to shed light on their constructions of godly poetics, politics and devotion, and provides the most extensive study of Milton's angelology in more than fifty years. With new philosophical, theological, and literary insights, this work offers a contribution to intellectual history and the history of religion in critical moments of the English Reformation."

Oh and: happy new year to one and all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another faculty radio appearance

Professor LeAnne Howe will appear this week-end on the show Studio 360 which appears on NPR station affiliates and Public Radio International stations. She’s discussing pop culture and "contact" with aliens in time for the premier of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The show's mp3's are up.

LeAnne, currently an Associate Professor of English and American Indian Studies at the Univeristy of Illinois, is always worth listening to. And reading. Check out her terrific 2007 novel Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story. Here is a description of the book that I lifted from LeAnne's own blog:

'Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story is an homage to the dusty roads and wind-blown diamonds of America’s first moving picture about baseball, His Last Game. Just as Henri Day and his team, the Miko Kings, are poised to win the 1907 Twin Territories’ Pennant against their archrivals, the Seventh Cavalrymen from Fort Sill, pitcher Hope Little Leader finds himself embroiled in a plot that will destroy him and the Indian team. Only the town’s chimeric postal clerk, Ezol Day, understands the outcome of Hope’s last game and how it will affect Indians and baseball for the next four generations.

Set in Indian Territory that is about to become part of Oklahoma, Miko Kings tells of the turbulent days before statehood when white settlers and gamblers are swindling the Indians out of their land and what has already happened will change its course. “They’re stories that travel now as captured light in someone else’s telescope,” Ezol Day will tell the woman who should have been her granddaughter. In Miko Kings, LeAnne Howe bends the pitch of time to return us to the roots of a national game.'

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Baby Milton

John Milton was born on December 9th in the year 1608, so today is the 400th anniversary of his first laureate screech and cry.

Our own Feisal Mohamed will be appearing on a BBC Radio program planned in honor of this anniversary--he will be discussing Milton’s controversial closet drama Samson Agonistes with Neil Forsyth during the December 9th episode of BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves. The show will air live from 3:00-4:00 p.m. CST, but they keep streaming audio of their episodes up for a week following initial airing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Three fall books from our faculty

Just wanted to use this space to mention three terrific new faculty books that have emerged into print this Fall.

The first of these is hot off the press: it is listed as a January 2009 book at, but a beaming Rob Barrett brought a copy into my office this afternoon--so it officially exists. The book is Against All England: Regional Identity and Cheshire Writing, 1195-1656, printed by the University of Notre Dame Press.

This book, to quote from the press' description, "examines a diverse set of poems, plays, and chronicles produced in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s that collectively argue for the localization of British literary history. These works, including very early monastic writing emanating from St. Werburgh's Abbey, the Chester Whitsun plays, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, seventeenth-century ceremonials, and various Stanley romances, share in the creation and revision of England's cultural tradition, demonstrating a vested interest in the intersection of landscape, language, and politics. Barrett's book grounds itself in Cestrian evidence in order to offer scholars a new, dynamic model of cultural topography, one that acknowledges the complex interlacing of regional and national identities within the longue durée extending from the post-Conquest period to the Restoration. Covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, the book challenges still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the "Renaissance" as a sharp break from England's medieval past. "

The second book I want to trumpet is Transnational South Asians: The Making of a Neo-Diaspora (Oxford University Press), which Susan Koshy co-edited with R. Radhakrishnan, and which was released in India in July 2008, in Britain in August 2008, and the US in October 2008.

Here's the press' description: "This volume examines the interrelationship between South Asian diaspora and globalization. It shows how the international division of labor has been redrawn by labor migrations from South Asia, how paradigms of the 'brain drain' have been supplemented by new models of the 'brain circuit', and how the construction of new transnational public spheres has altered cultural flows between the developed and the developing world. The volume highlights how South Asian diaspora is of pivotal importance because the migration it encompasses spans the rise of global modernity. The essays look at the practices of political organization, civic participation, social networking, religious activity, cultural production and consumption, commemoration, celebration, marriage, sexual relationships, family organization, and economic activity through which displaced communities reconstruct themselves in displacement. They focus on diasporic subjects who have been overlooked, forgotten, misrepresented, or marginalized in the scholarship on the South Asian diaspora, such as slaves, women migrants, queer desis."

Earlier this Fall, Tony Pollock's book Gender and the Fictions of the Public Sphere, 1690-1755 was printed by Routledge.

Because of its contiguity to my own area of research, I had the privilege of reading this book from cover to cover while it was in press. It is just a beautifully argued book, lucid and learned throughout. Here is the press' capsule description: "Challenging the longstanding interpretation of the early English public sphere as polite, inclusive, and egalitarian this book re-interprets key texts by representative male authors from the period—Addison, Steele, Shaftesbury, and Richardson—as reactionary responses to the widely-consumed and surprisingly subversive work of women writers such as Mary Astell, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood, whose political and journalistic texts have up until now received little scholarly consideration. By analyzing a wide range of materials produced between the 1690s to the 1750s, Pollock exposes a literary marketplace characterized less by cool rational discourse and genial consensus than by vehement contestation and struggles for cultural authority, particularly in debates concerning the proper extent of women’s participation in English public life. Utilizing innovative methods of research and analysis the book reveals that even at its moment of inception, there was an immanent critique of the early liberal public sphere being articulated by women writers who were keenly aware of the hierarchies and techniques of exclusion that contradicted their culture’s oft-repeated appeals to the principles of equality and universality."

Monday, December 1, 2008


As students and faculty return to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday, today seemed like a good opportunity to express some thanks of my own. If you like your English Professors to be all edgy and cynical, this is not the post for you. One thing about being head of a large department, though, is that it makes you acutely aware of how many people it takes to make things run well: it takes a village, it turns out, to teach a great class or write an important scholarly book. It is good to be reminded of this, too, since professorial work often feels solitary—for every hour of class time there are hours of solitary prep work, and that's not even counting the innumerable hours of solitary reading and writing that go into acquiring the expertise upon which one draws to do the class prep—and also since our cultural ideas about brilliance and intellectual work often de-emphasize the importance of context and community.

So: first on my thanksgiving list this year are all the faculty members (and by this I mean those in tenure stream ranks as well as NTTs and graduate students) whose efforts in the classroom and on committees have kept the place afloat this Fall. That's pretty much everyone, of course, but that's precisely the point: the opportunities some faculty members have each year for released time or sabbatical or to create and teach innovative new classes necessarily depend directly on the labors of others in the department, and so the depth of talent we have working here is a big part of what makes all of the singular achievements of our faculty possible.

I'd also like to express my gratitude to the department's award-winning advising and administrative staff. I think most faculty members here are aware of our reliance on their competence and professionalism, and will nod their heads when and if they read this. Speaking more personally, I work closely with Becky Moss, Amy Rumsey, and Deb Stauffer in EB208 and so I'm aware on a day-to-day basis of how much they take care of for us all. I can say, too, that I have a harder time asking for help than they have offering it. Thanks!

Last but not least, I'd like to thank the many alumni (and others) whose donations basically enable us to survive. Large donations have of late allowed us to do things like establish endowed professorships, fund graduate scholarships, and provide much-needed research support for faculty and graduate students traveling to academic conferences. But the smaller donations we receive are also indispensable, making possible the day to day operation of the department and allowing us to pay for recruitment of tenure track faculty, for example, or to cosponsor exciting events on campus. As I have had occasion to say in this forum already, it means a great deal to me to discover that I am part of something that has meant so much to so many for so long. Now, though, I want to offer my thanks to all of you who have made the large and small gifts to the department in the past year. We couldn't do what we do without you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And more!

I just received notification that our own Martha Althea Webber has received a 2008-09 Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement. As the notification letter from Chancellor Herman says, "this campus award is an important recognigtion of the extraordinary contributions of faculty, staff, and students to connect the University with the broader community on issues of critical social impact." Ms. Webber is one of two graduate student winners for the entire campus. So: hooray and congrats!

Monday, November 17, 2008

More awards

I quote the following from an email sent by the aforementioned Rob Barrett to the English Department today:

I'm pleased to announce the following results of the Undergraduate Teaching Awards Committee's deliberations:

1. Gillen Wood will be the department's faculty nominee for the LAS Dean's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

2. Sandy Camargo and Amy Doherty Mohr are this year's winners of the English Department's Outstanding Teaching Award for NTTs. John Griswold will be the department's NTT nominee for the LAS Dean's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Instructional Staff.

3. T.J. Boynton, Samantha Looker, and Mary Unger are this year's winners of the English Department's Outstanding Teaching Award for Graduate Students. Samantha will also be the department's graduate student nominee for the LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants.

Please join me in congratulating the winners of the departmental awards and the nominees for LAS honors!
Rob Barrett

Deb Stauffer wins LAS Staff Award!

Rob Barrett--the department's Associate Head and the person who compiles our nomination packets for LAS awards--tells me that he's learned that Deb Stauffer will win one of this year's LAS Staff awards. This is terrific news and well-deserved: congratulations, Deb! If you've had any contact at all with the main office of the English Department in recent years, the chances are good that Deb helped you out or pointed you in just the right direction. We all owe her our thanks for helping make sure that things run smoothly in the main office.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grad studies

Yesterday evening I attended a session of our department's Early Modern Workshop (a.k.a. EMW, or, if you're a fan of animal mascots, the emu)—a regular forum in which graduate students and faculty in English working in the many sub-fields of early modern studies meet to discuss work in progress. Last night we discussed a graduate student's paper on Jacobean Lord Mayor's pageants, and in a few weeks we will meet again to discuss a faculty member's work in progress on Milton's Areopagitica. Then, a week or two later we'll assemble once more for an end-of-semester potluck that'll be hosted this time by Lori Newcomb (thanks, Lori!).

As an early modernist, I'm especially involved in the EMW, but this is only one of many departmental forums in which graduate students and faculty exchange ideas—you can find information on the British Modernities working group on our webpage and if you look at the Center for Writing Studies site you will see that they too have active colloquia and work-in-progress forums in which graduate students and faculty share their work. Our grad student association (EGSA) likewise has an ongoing colloquium series. This series will hold a meeting this week at which (quoting from the announcement) a number of graduate students will be "discussing how their dissertations theorize and analyze imperialism, empire and colonial narratives in British and U.S. Literature" and which "English grads at all stages in their coursework and research are encouraged to attend!" This is necessarily a partial list, since there are all kinds of formal and informal intellectual exchange going on all the time here, both in the English department and under the aegis of other units, centers, and interdisciplinary humanities departments. Because the University of Illinois has a critical mass of superb scholars in English and in the humanities in general, and because we all live and work in relatively close proximity to one another in a comfortable little city, there is always (at least in my experience) more going on than one can manage to take in.

I say all this for a simple pragmatic reason: this is the time of year when prospective graduate students are deciding where to apply, putting their application packets together, and reading through departmental webpages looking for places that might be especially hospitable or stimulating. My point, in a nutshell, is that we are both.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Some Alums

Last week, I received a nice email from Kavita Daiya, who received her MA at Illinois in 1995. She said she had noticed this blog and so was writing in reminiscence of her time here (and her work with Zohreh Sullivan, in particular) and to announce, in the spirit of alumni newsletters and so forth, the recent publication of her book Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender and National Culture in Postcolonial India by Temple University Press. Congratulations!

Then, last Thursday, I attended a conference on John Milton held at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities that was organized by my colleague Feisal Mohamed. There I heard (among other papers) a terrific paper from Christopher Kendrick on the Paradise of Fools section in book 2 of Paradise Lost. I’ve known and admired Professor Kendrick’s work for years, so I was delighted to meet him, and even more delighted to learn that he had done his undergrad work here at Illinois.

Since I myself am relatively new to Illinois (I joined the faculty in 2006), I love these reminders about the history and tradition of our department. English at Illinois has meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time, and it is very moving to be reminded of that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Incomplete List

Every semester the Center for Teaching Excellence on campus publishes a list of faculty whose student evaluation numbers rank in the upper 30% of all classes on campus for both the quality of the teaching and the quality of the class. This used to be known as "The Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent By Their Students," and it is still referred to in conversation as "The Incomplete List" even though CTE dropped the "incomplete" in 2007. English is always heavily represented, and the local custom is that the department head sends a letter to those faculty members who appear on each semester's list thanking them for their efforts and congratulating them on their classroom success. I forgot to do that this semester (d'oh!), despite the usual departmental success on the Spring 2008 list. To those of you who appear there, you will be getting a letter from me soon. But I thought I might publish your names here as well. Congratulations are overdue to the following English department teachers for their appearance on the Spring 2008 List:

Sarah Alderfer, Melissa Bailes, Iryce Baron, Rob Barrett, Michael Behrens, Hannah Bellwoar, T.J. Boynton, Bart Brinkman, Anne Brubaker, Jaime Brunton, Martin Camargo, Nancy Castro, John Claborn, Stephen Claverie, Bethany Cooper, Eleanor Courtemanche, Leslie Crowell, Carrie Dickison, Caroline Duda, Rebecca Eggenschwiler, A. Ervin, Jed Esty, Russell Evatt, D. Fratz, Lori Garner, Melissa Girard, Zia Gluhbegovic, Philip Graham, Catharine Gray, Sarah Gray, John Griswold, Jim Hansen, Gail Hapke, Marilyn Holguin, Ann Hubert, Anna Ivy, Brandon Jernigan, Amy Rowan Kaplan, David Kay, Brigit Kelly, Kimberly Koch, Susan Koshy, Mary Lindsey, Melissa Littlefield, Samantha Looker, Trish Loughran, Tania Lown-Hecht, Tara Lyons, Mike Madonick, Lara Mann, Bob Markley, John Marsh, Kristin McCann, Erin McQuiston, Ellen McWhorter, Allison Meyer, Amy Doherty Mohr, David Morris, Lori Newcomb, Michael Odom, Chaeyoon Park, Bob Parker, Tony Pollock, Paul Prior, Amity Reading, Franklin Ridgway, Austin Riede, Micah Rieker, David Roark, Jenica Roberts-Stanley, Ricky Rodriguez, Michael Rothberg, John Rubins, Julia Saville, Spencer Schaffner, Christina Scheuer, Edward Sellers, Christopher Simeone, Kathy Skwarczek, Spencer Snow, Andrea Stevens, Bradley Stiles, Jonathan Stone, Renée Trilling, Ted Underwood, Mary Unger, Joe Valente, C. Van Linthout, Michael Verderame, Jonathan Vincent, Jason Vredenburg, Terra Walston, Gregory Wilson, Daniel Wong.

I happen to like the obsolete term "Incomplete List" -- because student evaluations are only one component of evaluating teaching and because no one semester's list fully captures the overall depth of superior teaching in our department. On the whole, we are a department that works extremely hard on our teaching and that does an extraordinarily good job of it. I believe that classroom teaching is the very heart of what we do here, and that our faculty embody the idea that intense, focused research and committed teaching should, can, and do inform one another.

Congrats to all.

Late edit: I've now added people in the English Department who appeared on the Spring 08 Incomplete List and who were teaching under Creative Writing, Rhetoric and Composition, and Business and Technical Writing rubrics. So now my own list is (ahem) a bit less incomplete!

Friday, October 31, 2008

More Halloween

Deb is victorious in this year's pumpkin decorating contest.
Posted by Picasa

Happy Halloween

We in 208 have enjoyed the trick-or-treaters who've been coming through so much that today I decided to wear a costume myself. I'm dressed either as Hamlet or as Tony Pollock. Come by and see if you can tell which!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New website

If you are a frequent visitor to the English Department website, you'll have noticed by now that everything is new. The new website has many advantages over its predecessor, the most important being that faculty can now update their own pages. In time, we hope that this will make for a more accurate, dynamic, and interesting site. But we're still in early days yet. If you surf around the site you'll see that many faculty profiles are blank and that default titles assigned by programmers to non-tenure stream faculty ("instructor") have in most cases not been updated.

If you are in urgent need of information about the department--if you are, say, a prospective graduate student, or a scholar thinking about applying for our advertised position in postcolonial/global Anglophone literature--please accept my apologies for the fact that some information is not yet available online. Please feel free, too, to send me an email inquiry about the department if there is information you need.

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