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, November 29, 2010

News stories

Just a quick post today, with some links to a couple of news stories of local interest.


The first has to do with a study of job satisfaction among pre-tenure faculty members that was recently released by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), a 160-member consortium based at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. As has been described recently in both The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, the University of Illinois was identified as an institution that rates highly overall for its treatment of junior faculty members, and especially well for the way it enables junior faculty members to find a good, healthy balance between the demands of work and the maintenance of home life outside of the University. In this category, in fact, the University of Illinois was singled out as one of four institutional exemplars representing best practices among doctoral/research institutions.

This is not specific to the English department per se, but I would like to think that we do our part to contribute to campus's generally humane work environment. We hire fantastic people when we get to hire, and so there is nothing more important to the long-term well-being of our department than our ability to foster talent and to help people develop satisfying lives and careers here. What the COACHE study makes clear is that our local, departmental efforts in this regard are indeed well supported by a larger campus culture aimed at making it possible for faculty members to flourish.


My second news item has to do with Richard Powers, who was awarded one of this year's Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Awards at a lovely Alumni Association event a month or so ago. I'm linking here to the account of the event in the most recent LAS newsletter, and here to the biography of Powers associated with this story.

Nobody who lives and works around the English department needs to be reminded of how wonderful Powers is or how lucky we all are to have him as a colleague, but more far-flung readers of this blog will certainly enjoy the capsule biography of Powers and also of the three other impressive LAS alumni award winners. This is the third year running that there has been an English alum among the college's annual alumni awards, and each year I have been very honored and humbled to attend the Alumni Association event and to represent my department in the presence of such amazing and accomplished people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

English Student Leadership Council

This past Tuesday, members of the English Student Leadership Council held a successful meet-and-greet event all afternoon in the atrium of the English building. To mark the event, they also had T-shirts made, such as the one pictured here on a rather dumpy middle-aged torso belonging (ahem) to the head of the English department:

Anyone who entered the building on Tuesday must have been aware of the event, because there were eye-catching posters everywhere, and this is only the latest indication of this year's ESLC's remarkable ambition and energy. We have some wonderful students in this group this year, and some wonderful leadership, too, from Adrienne Pickett and Lori Newcomb.

This group's main purpose is simply to enrich the experience of English majors, and part of what that means is trying to find ways to create departmental community for those who want it. We're a big department with many, many majors. And that means that it can be a challenge for our students who want to be part of a more tight-knit community to find each other. At the organizational meeting I attended earlier this Fall, members of this year's ESLC clearly expressed a desire to work towards community-building, and their labors are now bearing fruit. There is an ESLC Facebook page now to facilitate communication; the meet-and-greet event gave others in the department a chance to get involved; and members have organized and participated in a number of smaller-profile events designed to take advantage of the many cultural resources available on campus. Most recently, ESLC members organized a group outing to hear Dave Eggers speak in conjunction with the selection of his book Zeitoun for our "One Book, One Campus" program. And to speak with Eggers, too, as this picture demonstrates:

Here's why I love what the ESLC is doing: we provide our students with excellent classroom instruction, of course, but humanities scholarship is ultimately meant to be more than just something you master in a classroom. The kinds of thinking and learning we try to teach should ultimately be equipment for living, and anything that allows students to develop for themselves a fuller, more holistic relationship to their major or that makes it easier for them to take ownership of their own identities as intellectuals is, in my view, priceless.

Because English at Illinois is a large major in a large college on a large campus, it can all feel relatively impersonal at times. But by the same token, our size means that there are all kinds of smart people around to get to know and a huge wealth of relevant activities on campus to take advantage of. Part of the challenge of the university experience for our students has to do with finding personal interests, forging affiliations, and generally figuring out how the college experience matters for them in particular. Even though the members of ESLC might not see what they are doing in these terms--they might even dislike my avuncular tone here, for all I know--I'm grateful to them for creating a venue that will help many of our students to better negotiate this all-important challenge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema

I am very pleased to be able to announce here the publication of Jose B. Capino's new book Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema. I ran into J.B. earlier this afternoon, when he had just received his first copies from University of Minnesota Press. Though lists a publication date next week, the book has officially been printed. Congratulations, J.B.!

Here is the book description, pasted in from the press' website:

"Philippine cinema, the dream factory of the former U.S. colony, teems with American figures and plots. Local movies feature GIs seeking Filipina brides, cold war spies hunting down native warlords, and American-born Filipinos wandering in the parental homeland. The American landscape furnishes the settings for the triumphs and tragedies of Filipino nurses, GI babies, and migrant workers.

By tracking American fantasies in Philippine movies from the postindependence period to the present, José B. Capino offers an innovative account of cinema’s cultural work in decolonization and globalization. Capino examines how a third world nation’s daydreams both articulate empire and mobilize against it, provide imaginary maps and fables of identity for its migrant workers and diasporan subjects, pose challenges to the alibis of patriarchy and nationalism, and open paths for participating in the cultures of globality.

Through close readings of more than twenty Philippine movies, Capino demonstrates the postcolonial imagination’s vital role in generating pragmatic and utopian visions of living with empire. Illuminating an important but understudied cinema, he creates a model for understanding the image of the United States in the third world."

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