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, January 25, 2011

Robert Markley, the new W. D. & Sara E. Trowbridge Professor

I'm very happy to be able to announce here that my colleague Bob Markley is—as of this past January 1--the newly appointed W. D. & Sara E. Trowbridge Professor.

This kind of named and endowed Professorship is one of the highest honors a scholar can receive, and to be appointed to a position like this at a top research university like the University of Illinois amounts to an acknowledgment that the recipient is a scholar of extraordinary talent and achievement, a recognized national and international leader in his or her field of study. Such awards also typically come with a research budget that—while perhaps modest in comparison with the kinds of research funds sometimes available to leading scientists on campus—is a tremendous boon to an ambitious research scholar in the humanities, facilitating travel, the purchase of books and equipment, and perhaps even the services of a research assistant.

So much for the general. Now on to the particular: Bob Markley.

Note: this is the part where my rhetorical objective is basically to make the person I'm writing about blush!

Professor Markley joined the faculty here, at the rank of Professor, in 2003. He was, at that time, already a well-known senior scholar in the field of 18th century British literature and culture, with two important single-author books to his credit (not to mention twelve edited and co-edited books and journal special issues, and too many articles and book-chapters for me to have the patience even to count). He brought with him, as this record suggests, an extraordinary depth and breadth of knowledge concerning 18th century literature and culture, and he had already published quite a bit in the newer sub-discipline of literature and science, too, building off of expertise developed while writing his 1993 book Fallen Languages: Crises of Representation in Newtonian England, 1660-1740 (Cornell UP).

Skipping forward to the present: Markley is now a recognized leader in the field of science and literature, and he publishes, mentors graduate students, and wins competitive grants in an amazingly wide range of traditional and emergent fields within English studies. In addition to expertise on a very broad range of seventeenth- as well as eighteenth-century writers, for instance, and he has staked out territory in several burgeoning areas of critical inquiry including science studies, cultural climate history, new media studies, and digital humanities. This versatility makes him extremely valuable to the department and to faculties of other adjacent fields, as he is able to teach and mentor in such a wide range of interdisciplinary areas.

Markley’s 2005 book—Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination (Duke UP)—marked an impressive foray entirely outside the area of 18th century studies. It treats the idea of Mars as a focal point for utopian imaginings and for the projection of ecological fears, examining texts and contexts ranging from seventeenth-century astronomical thought though modern science fiction novels and NASA mission planning. This well-received book further established Markley as a leading figure in the field of science and literature. And meanwhile, the publication of his book The Far East and the English Imagination, 1600 to 1730 (Cambridge UP, 2006) further extended Professor Markley's reputation as a leading scholar in early modern studies. Contesting the dominant paradigm of Eurocentric research in English departments, Markley's book places Asia—especially China and Japan—at the crux of an early modern global system, showing how European-based writers confronted the economic, cultural, and technological dominance of the East.


But wait, there's more!

Professor Markley has also been editor of the journal The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation since 1982 (when I was still in high school, for crying out loud!), and between that and his editorial work on numerous essay collections and journal volumes he has helped publish the research of hundreds of other scholars along the way. He is also a very gifted and charismatic teacher in all of his many fields, a fixture for instance on the so-called Incomplete List that our Center for Teaching Excellence publishes each semester to recognize instructors who have been rated excellent by their students. Professor Markley regularly mentors a huge number of graduate students in our PhD program, and as department head I can say that he carries out his share of departmental service work with great professionalism and skill.

Obviously, I could go on and on here. So here's the short form: this is a colleague whose record of achievement is eminently worthy of the recognition it has now received. So congratulations, Bob, on this richly-deserved honor!

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