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, September 27, 2010

Gallimaufry (updated, September 30)

Four (no longer just three) short items today, dear reader, in lieu of a more sustained post.


First, Philip Graham writes to tell me that a Portuguese translation of his 2009 book The Moon, Come to Earth, is now slated to be published in the near future by Editorial Presenca, which I gather is the leading Portuguese publisher of international literature in translation. Hardcore Grahamites can also find a recent, laudatory recent review of The Moon, Come to Earth online here.


Second: I received an email press-release last week from the Tulsa City-County Library announcing that LeAnne Howe (whose current adventures as a Fulbright Scholar in Amman Jordan are chronicled here) has been named the 2011 winner of the their American Indian Author Award. You can find more information about this award--including a list of past honorees--here.


Bruce Michelson, who is a Professor in our department as well as being Director of the Campus Honors Program, is giving a talk today (September 30) at St. Louis University in commemoration of the Mark Twain centenary (which, Michelson reminds me, is something they take very seriously in the state of Missouri). There is a nice little write-up at the SLU English webpage here.


And last (alphabetically) but not least: Michael Rothberg, who is the author of an important recent book entitled Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, was a keynote speaker this past weekend at a conference in England on the theme of ... multidirectional memory. I paste this in from the conference program (which, at least for now, you can find online here):

"The term ‘multidirectional memory’, taken from Michael Rothberg’s 2009 book Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, suggests that memories are not linear or hierarchical, but are subject to processes of negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing.

This two-day, interdisciplinary conference aims to look at transfers between different kinds of traumatic memory, particularly those associated with, but not limited to, slavery, the Holocaust, and the colonial past."

This is a pretty unusual honor---to have an international conference inspired by your work!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bollywood in the Age of New Media

I've just learned that the first advance copies of Anustup Basu's new book have arrived. The book--Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-televisual Aesthetic--is published by Edinburgh University Press. Though this is a book grounded in Basu's deep scholarly expertise in the area if Indian cinema, it is also a a book whose implications--concerning globalization and aesthetics--should be of broader interest too. For this reason, I am here pasting in the longer book description from the Edinburgh UP website instead of the short version you find on

"This study of popular Indian cinema in an age of globalisation, new media, and metropolitan Hindu fundamentalism focuses on the period from 1991 to 2004. Popular Hindi cinema took a certain spectacular turn from the early nineties as a signature 'Bollywood style' evolved in the wake of liberalization and the inauguration of a global media ecology in India. Films increasingly featured transformed bodies, fashions, life-styles, commodities, gadgets, and spaces, often in non-linear, 'window-shopping' ways, without any primary obligation to the narrative. Flows of desires, affects, and aspirations frequently crossed the bounds of stories and determined milieus. One example is the film Haqeeqat that featured poor working class protagonists, but romantic musical sequences transported them abruptly to Switzerland, with the actors now dressed in designer suits. Basu theorises this overall cinematic-cultural ecology here as an informational geo-televisual aesthetic.

This book connects this filmic geo-televisual style to an ongoing story of the uneven globalizing process in India. Basu argues that 'Bollywood' is not so much indicative of a uniquely Indian modernity coming into its own; rather it is symptomatic of a pure techno-financial modernization that comes without a political modernity. Bollywood in the Age of New Media therefore explains how the irreverent energies of the new can actually be tied to conservative Brahminical imaginations of class, caste, or gender hierarchies. Using a wide-ranging methodological approach that converses with theoretical domains of post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and film and media studies, this book presents a complex account of an India of the present caught between brave new silicon valleys and farmer suicides."

For more Basu-related news--this time of a variety that is very near to my own early-modernist heart--check out this recent story from the Times of India.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some impressive faculty awards!

This past Wednesday I had the distinct pleasure of attending a reception and ceremony in honor of this year's recipients of the prestigious University Scholar award. I went in support of my wonderful colleague, Lauren Goodlad, who was one of the honorees. This award is Big Deal on campus, as faculty in all colleges and all departments are eligible, and I am really pleased that Lauren won the award this because I know there is nobody more deserving of this kind of recognition. Hooray!

It is also wonderful for English as a department to have a new University Scholar (our first since Catherine Prendergast won the award in 2008). Michael Hogan, the new president of the University of Illinois system was there at the awards ceremony, as were all the central leaders of our campus's academic mission and the dean of our college: so in addition to honoring a very deserving faculty member, an event like this is a really great opportunity to showcase the strength of English to influential campus leaders. It may sound funny to say this, but I'm really grateful to Lauren for providing this opportunity!

While I'm on the subject of impressive faculty awards, I have a couple more to announce here as well.

Renée Trilling was named Helen Corley Petit Scholar for 2010-11, an honor given annually to exceptionally successful newly-tenured faculty members in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences based on their outstanding work as scholars and teachers.

And, last but by no means least, Ricky Rodríguez, was named one of this year's Conrad Humanities Scholars, joining last year's recipients Michael Rothberg and Trish Loughran as English Department faculty holding this title. The Conrad Humanities Scholar program is actually a relatively new honor, one made possible very recently by the extraordinary generosity of Arlys Streitmatter Conrad.

In addition to the honor and distinction that these awards convey, each carries with it some modest research funding. Compared to our colleagues in the sciences--whose labs can cost millions of dollars to run--our research needs are relatively modest as a rule. We sometimes need to be able to travel to a library or an archive, we purchase books and computers and the like, and we sometimes find ourselves in need of a research assistant to help with projects that require the assembly of a lot of disparate information. These things are comparatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, but being able to afford them can make a HUGE difference in the ability of humanities professors to be able to undertake and complete ambitious work. Awards like these--which in fact make it possible to meet the kinds of modest research expenses that humanities scholars encounter--can therefore have a major impact upon a given faculty member's research career.

These are the kinds of posts that make me very proud to be head of such a superb department. Congratulations to all of our recent award winners!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Welcome, alums!

Our annual newsletter was sent out last week, and as a result there seems to be a modest uptick in the daily number of visitors to this blog. I hope there a cause-and-effect relationship, in any event, since I'd like to think that I'm writing for (among others) our many, many alums out there who may be curious about what we're doing these days. The newsletter gives us a chance to highlight a few things, of course, but we are a big department and there is always a lot going on and there is just no way that the newsletter can even begin to do the place justice. So I use my own brief piece in the newsletter to invite readers to come here, to the blog, where I can at least give weekly updates about some of the many kinds of things that we do. If you have come here out of curiosity after reading about the blog in the newsletter, welcome! I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments section here or via email. Or even (gasp!) even snail mail (which is just soooo twentieth century): Curtis Perry, Department of English, University of Illinois, 608 S. Wright St., Urbana IL 61801.

There have been a couple of alums who have taken me up on my offer and made contact, though curiously enough each of them wanted to discuss a friend or former teacher rather than himself: I take this to be some kind of native Midwestern modesty--our alums are unwilling to toot their own horns, but are eager to praise their associates!

First Paul
Wagenbreth--an English alum who now works for the local newspaper--emailed me earlier this week to call my attention to the considerable achievements John Callahan, who is the Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities at Lewis & Clark College and who holds a PhD from our department. Callahan became a friend of the writer and critic Ralph Ellison (there is a lovely video of him discussing this friendship here) and is now Ellison's literary executor. In this capacity, Callahan (and another colleague) recently published Three Days Before the Shooting, a mammoth novel compiled out of drafts and papers that Ellison worked on for decades and left unfinished when he died in 1994.

Wagenbreth wrote to pay tribute to Callahan's scholarly achievements and to his contribution to American letters, but he also testifies to the impact that a teacher can make upon the life of a student. Wagenbreth writes of Callahan, his freshman writing instructor: "he made quite an impression on me--even steered me on to an English major and whatever success you could say I've enjoyed in life." This, he adds, is "proof if any were needed that an instructor really can make a difference in students' lives."

Then, while I was thinking about
Wagenbreth and Callahan, Bruce Erickson (who is our director of Programs in Professional Writing, and the guy who does the hard work of compiling our newsletter) told me that another alum had just come by wanting to tell him about the career of the poet and nature writer Reg Saner, now a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, who is another distinguished English Department PhD.

I joined this department in 2006 after teaching for many years at another university, and as a relative newcomer (as I've said before in this space) I love to learn about the strength of the tradition we now represent and carry on. So I've been reading a great deal this week about both Callahan and Saner. And I also think it is wonderful that alums like Mr.
Wagenbreth want to acknowledge their teachers because, as he says, it serves as a reminder of the importance of the role played by good teachers in people's lives.

Partly because I find that a sense of our department's legacy makes its current work feel more meaningful to me, I would love to find ways to increase our engagement with our many, many alumni. But I'll need your help, dear reader, in figuring out what forms that engagement might take. If you are an alum and you have any ideas along these lines, I would really, really love to hear from you. Even by snail mail!

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