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

Sunday, January 31, 2010


In this time of budgetary retrenchment, I was heartened to read news this last week of the 1.25 million dollar grant awarded by the Mellon Foundation to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. The money will be used to fund 10 post-doctoral fellowship in the humanities over the next six years, in four broadly interdisciplinary areas: race and diaspora studies, the history of science and technology, empire and colonial studies, and memory studies.

It may be that none of these people wind up having anything to do with the Department of English per se, though English faculty certainly have expertise in each of the areas targeted by the grant. But even if that winds up being the case, faculty and students in English will inevitably benefit from this influx of younger scholars doing leading edge work, and this kind of grant, as Chancellor Easter is quoted as saying in the news story I've linked to above, "can only be interpreted as recognition by others of our strengths in areas across the humanities." Indeed.

Though each humanities department has its own special area(s) of expertise, all of us in the humanities find ourselves engaged with larger, shared historical and theoretical questions (including, but not limited to, those named in the grant) that ensure that our research concerns overlap with those of people in other departments on campus. Humanities scholarship is all interdisciplinary these days. And since English is a large department, and a crucial hub for strong humanities scholarship generally, we have faculty in our department who are also affiliated with the whole gamut of other humanities departments on campus. This means that we have a strong departmental investment in the strength of humanities as a whole. And IPRH--which hosts talks and ongoing seminars on a wide variety of shared topics, and which provides crucial support for interdisciplinary humanities scholarship on campus--is an on-campus institution whose contribution to our shared intellectual life cannot be overstated.

Congratulations to Dianne Harris, who directs IPRH and is the PI for this grant. I know I speak for the entire English Department when I say that we're really looking forward to seeing what comes of this, and that we all deeply appreciate the work that IPRH does in support of interdisciplinary humanities scholarship on campus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spring 2010

The Spring 2010 semester began today, which means that the English Building is bustling and the classrooms are once again full. My own first class of the semester--an upper division Shakespeare class--met early this morning, and I'm really looking forward to working with students this semester. Nice also to see my colleagues striding purposefully thought the halls on their way to classes, and to hear the old, familiar hum of activity from the main departmental office.

Faculty and staff at the University of Illinois have been (understandably) worried for the past few months about the impact of the state's budget crisis upon the university and about the future of higher education here and elsewhere. But that's a topic for another day. Nice, today, to return to the classroom, and thus to be reminded also that the annual cycle of academic work rolls on. Like the song says, the fundamental rules apply, as time goes by.

Welcome back, everyone.

PS -- another really good thing about the start of this semester: the multi-talented Philip Graham brought some exceedingly delicious homemade pizzas in for the staff in 208 today, and I was lucky enough to snag a slice. Thanks, Philip!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ninth Letter 6.2 is on its way

I've just been reading my advanced copy of the new issue of Ninth Letter, which looks to be boxed up and ready to mail to subscribers.

Let me remind readers of this blog to subscribe--some great stuff in there. At a first read, I really enjoyed contributions by Sherman Alexie (his, incidentally, is the only poem I have ever known to made legitimately good use of both a diagrammed basketball play and a complete list of the top 100 songs of 1984), Cathy Day, and Amjad Nasser. And as always the journal's graphic and design elements and free-form aesthetic of constant self-reinvention greatly enhance the experience of the finished volume.

As always, kudos to the editor, Jodee Stanley, to the Creative Writing faculty (Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Philip Graham, and Audrey Petty) responsible, respectively, for editing the issue's poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, and to all the other MFA students and designers whose work is so well represented here.

If you'd like to subscribe to Ninth Letter (and I really think you should), you can do so here. If you'd like to play the venerable, time-honored role of patron of the arts by making a charitable donation to their operation, you can do that here, too.

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