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.

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