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, April 3, 2012

Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Symposium

I have been running around, lately, like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Just a mix of end of semester administrative stuff, teaching, and a trip to Boston to participate in the annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America. That's why I am only posting now--a week after the fact!--about the Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Symposium that our department held last Tuesday in the early evening at Levis Faculty Center on campus.

These symposia, which we now hold each Spring, have become a combination of a scholarly and a social event, giving grad students and faculty in the department the chance to hear about scholarly work in progress from people in the department's different sub-disciplines and also just the chance to mingle and see each other outside of the fraught confines of some faculty meeting or other.

This year, the organizing committee (to whom, my thanks!) settled on the topic of "cognition." Justine Murison (whose scholarlu work recovers the 19th-century equivalent of neuroscience) moderated the event, and we heard three provocative and surprisingly inter-illuminating papers. First, we heard from Melissa Littlefield--whose co-edited book The Neuroscientific Turn: Transdisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain--is about to become required reading for all of us--then from Paul Prior, who spoke about the critical history of attempts to use cognitive theories in writing studies, and then from Alex Shakar, whose novel Luminarium (soon to be in paperback!) is about the relationship between the material brain, science, and spirituality, among other things. All fascinating, not least because we do seem to be entering "the age of the brain" and because all humanists have to be at least curious about what brain science can and will mean for the kinds of work we do.

Speaking personally, I think of these events as celebrations of the depth and breadth of what we do in English, and about what it means to be part of a department full of smart, dedicated scholars working brilliantly on so many different kinds of important and fascinating things.

These symposia are made possible in part by the remarkable generosity of the Kirkpatricks, whose support of what we do in English has been transformational in so many different ways. So I guess I like to think of these events also as a celebration of their impact upon our work. I never tire of saying thank you, so I'll say it here again: thank you!

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