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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Incomplete List, Spring 2009

Yesterday, the campus's Center for Teaching Excellence printed its List Of Teachers Ranked As Excellent By Their Students for Spring 09. This list, compiled every semester, is based on student evaluation data. If you have been a regular reader of this blog (or if you happen to scroll back through the last year of posts) you will remember that this list is colloquially called the 'Incomplete List' because the CTE used to call it the Incomplete List Of Teachers Ranked As Excellent By Their Students until summer of 2007. It is incomplete because not all classes on campus are evaluated by students, and also because student evaluation is only one way of measuring a given class' success. Still, faculty here work hard on their teaching and like to be appreciated for their efforts, so we all like to show up on the Incomplete List even if we all know that it is not the last word on evaluating our teaching.

I know, from a department Head's perspective, that we have a lot of dedicated teachers doing great work in the classroom every semester. I enjoy compiling these lists of the faculty and graduate student instructors in English whose names have appeared on the Incomplete List for their BTW, CW, ENGL, and Rhet classes in part because I like being able to recognize the good work individuals are doing but also because I like calling attention to the length of the list. I'm delighted, above all, that so many students in English Department classes choose to give their teachers highly positive scores on evaluations: that tells me that lots and lots of students have really appreciated the work their teachers have been doing.

So, without further ado, here's the English Department cohort from the most recent Incomplete List (based on Spring 09 evaluation data):

Sarah Alexander, Claire Barber, Iryce Baron, Anustup Basu, Manisha Basu, Rebeccah Bechtold, Michael Behrens, Patrick Berry, Michael Black, Allan Borst, T.J. Boynton, Stephanie Brabant, Jamie Brunton, Dana Burchfield, Sandy Camargo, Stephanie Cherolis, John Claborn, Howard Cole, Daniel Colson, Bethany Cooper, Eleanor Courtemanche, Leslie Crowell, Lindsey Drager, Caroline Duda, Dennis Dullea, Lisa Dunick, Russell Evatt, Shawn Gilmore, Melissa Girard, Catharine Gray, Jim Hansen, Gail Hapke, Mary Hays, Ashley Hetrick, Ann Hubert, Kelly Innes, Anna Ivy, Rowan Kaplan, David Kay, Brigit Kelly, Kimberly Koch, Susan Koshy, Eileen Lagman, Jennifer Lieberman, Mary Lindsey, Melissa Littlefield, Tania Lown-Hecht, Vicki Mahaffey, Robert Markley, Kristin McCann, Arley McNeney, Ellen McWhorter, Bruce Michelson, Ligia Mihut, Zia Miric, Feisal Mohamed, Amy Mohr, David Morris, Justine Murison, Lori Newcomb, Lisa Oliverio, Robert Dale Parker, Audrey Petty, Tony Pollock, Catherine Prendergast, Amity Reading, Franklin Ridgway, Micah Riecker, David Roark, Ricky Rodriguez, John Rubins, Kerstin Rudolph, Stephen Runkle, Julia Saville, Spencer Schaffner, Christina Scheuer, E. Jordan Sellers, Christopher Simeone, Katherine Skwarczek, Spencer Snow, Siobhan Somerville, Andrea Stevens, Clint Stevens, Bradley Stiles, Jonathan Stone, Crystal Thomas, Mary Unger, Michael Verderame, Jason Vredenburg, Jonathan Vincent, Kathryn Walkiewicz, Terra Walston, Rebecca Weber, Kyle Williams, Gregory Wilson, Elaine Wood, Charlie Wright.

Congratulations to one and all, and thanks--on behalf of our students--for all your efforts in the classroom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Robert Dale Parker, James M. Benson Professor in English

I am delighted to announce here that Robert Dale Parker has been offered and has officially accepted appointment as the department's first James M. Benson Professor in English.

Named professorships such as this one are among the highest honors available to faculty-members in any university; they are meant to recognize and support the work of scholars whose careers have been extraordinarily productive and who have also made extensive and distinctive contributions as teachers and as professional leaders. With this award, Parker joins Vicki Mahaffey, who is the Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Professor in English Literature, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly, who is Harry E. Preble Professor of English, as our department's holders of named professorships. Richard Powers holds a Swanlund Chair, as does Professor Emeritus Nina Baym. Baym and Professor Emeritus Cary Nelson are both Jubilee Professors of Liberal Arts and Sciences. That's very impressive company, and inclusion on this list puts Parker's accomplishments into their proper context.

Parker's initial work--highlighted by two well-regarded boooks on Faulkner and another on the poet Elizabeth Bishop--established him as a leading scholar of American modernism and earned him recognition on campus as a University Scholar in 1990. Following up on this body of work, Parker emerged as a one of the world's foremost authorities in the field of Native American literary history, publishing The Invention of Native American Literature (Cornell University Press, 2003) and following that up with his award-winning 2007 volume The Sound The Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnson Schoolcraft (University of Pennsylvania Press). This remarkable scholarly recovery project promises to rewrite the history of Native American literature. Here is the book description issued by the press:

"Introducing a dramatic new chapter to American Indian literary history, this book brings to the public for the first time the complete writings of the first known American Indian literary writer, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (her English name) or Bamewawagezhikaquay (her Ojibwe name), Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky (1800-1842). Beginning as early as 1815, Schoolcraft wrote poems and traditional stories while also translating songs and other Ojibwe texts into English. Her stories were published in adapted, unattributed versions by her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a founding figure in American anthropology and folklore, and they became a key source for Longfellow's sensationally popular The Song of Hiawatha.

As this volume shows, what little has been known about Schoolcraft's writing and life only scratches the surface of her legacy. Most of the works have been edited from manuscripts and appear in print here for the first time. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky presents a collection of all Schoolcraft's extant writings along with a cultural and biographical history. Robert Dale Parker's deeply researched account places her writings in relation to American Indian and American literary history and the history of anthropology, offering the story of Schoolcraft, her world, and her fascinating family as reinterpreted through her newly uncovered writing. This book makes available a startling new episode in the history of American culture and literature."

As if this weren't enough, Parker also recently published How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies (Oxford University Press, 2008), an extremely valuable, cogent overview of critical theory designed for classroom use by graduate students and advanced undergraduates in all areas of literary and cultural study. That Parker was able to do justice to this project is testimony to his extraordinary scholarly range. And the success of How to Interpret Literature likewise has to do with Parker's commitment to pedagogy. His name has appeared on the university's List of Faculty Ranked as Excellent by their Students more than 45 times, and his has won competitive undergraduate-teaching awards at both the college and campus levels. A tireless graduate instructor, Parker has also won recognition from the Graduate College as an outstanding mentor and has served as advisor to innumerable graduate students in English. Parker is known to his colleagues (in English as well as in American Indian Studies, where he is an active affiliate) for the care and conscientiousness with which he approaches his many and varied roles in the department. There is nobody who reads a colleague's work or a job application with more care; nobody is more generous with helpful suggestions or with the drafting of documents; nobody takes the moral responsibility of membership in a department more seriously.

A career like this one clearly warrants celebration and support, and so I am also extremely grateful to James M. Benson for making this appointment possible. Private funding for humanities professorships makes it possible not only to reward extraordinary scholars but also to ensure that they will have the support required in order to do their best and most ambitious work. I am grateful to Mr. Benson for his recognition of the importance of humanities scholarship, and I am very pleased that his gift will be used to support the future work of such an obviously exemplary scholar and teacher.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Better Pencil

I happen to know--from Facebook, ironically enough--that Dennis Baron has just now received advanced copies of his new book, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution (Oxford University Press).

Here is the description of the book provided by the press: "Computers, now the writer's tool of choice, are still blamed by skeptics for a variety of ills, from speeding writing up to the point of recklessness, to complicating or trivializing the writing process, to destroying the English language itself.

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would "destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.
Here then is a fascinating history of our tangled dealings with a wide range of writing instruments, from ancient papyrus to the modern laptop. With dozens of illustrations and many colorful anecdotes, the book will enthrall anyone interested in language, literacy, or writing."

Late update: there is an interesting interview with Dennis in Salon this week that you should be able to access here. Definitely worth taking a look at!

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Semester

Classes are still a week away, but the hum of a new semester has definitely begun. I'd like to use this space to welcome students and faculty back to the halls of the English Building, and also to say hello to any alums who may stumble upon this blog or surf over after reading my piece in our annual newsletter. For those of you who may have checked in here periodically over the summer, I promise to update more regularly once again now that the pace of things is picking up on campus.

It is always nice to start a new year with some good news, so let me also use this space to congratulate the English Department faculty members who were promoted during last year's review and promotion cycle and who, therefore, begin this academic year with sparkling new titles.

*Jim Hansen is now Associate Professor of English and Criticism and Interpretive Theory.

*LeAnne Howe is now Professor of English (with an emphasis on Creative Writing) and
American Indian Studies.

*Paul Prior is now Professor of English and Writing Studies.

*Michael Rothberg is now Professor of English (with many other cross-disciplinary affiliations)
and Director of a new Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies.

*Gillen D'Arcy Wood is now Professor of English as well as a member of the University's new
Environmental Change Institute.

For those of you who are not faculty members who may read this, the promotion of faculty members is always a Big Deal. On the one hand, the distinction reflected by each new rank reflects hard-won achievement in our profession. On the other, faculty members, as they move up in ranks, have the opportunity to play an increasingly important leadership role in the department, the university, and the profession as a whole.

For those readers of this blog who are faculty members, you probably already know about these promotions. But it never hurts to say congratulations to your colleagues one more time!

Congratulations to all, and welcome to the start of another academic year!

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