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, July 30, 2012

The Neuroscientific Turn

I am doubly happy to hear that advance copies of The Neuroscientific Turn: Transdisciplinarity in the Age of the Brain have arrived.  I'm always happy when a colleague's book gets published, and this book is co-edited by Melissa Littlefield, who is an Associate Professor here at UIUC with appointments in English and in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health.  But also, this is a book I've had my eye on for some time just out of personal interest, and I'm eager to get my hands on a copy!

Here is the book description, pasted in from the University of Michigan Press website:

"The Neuroscientific Turn brings together 19 scholars from a variety of fields to reflect on the promises of and challenges facing emergent "neurodisciplines" such as neuroethics, neuroeconomics, and neurohistory. In the aftermath of the Decade of the Brain, neuroscience has become one of the hottest topics of study—not only for scientists but also, increasingly, for scholars from the humanities and social sciences. While the popular press has simultaneously lauded and loathed the coming "neurorevolution," the academy has yet to voice any collective speculations about whether there is any coherence to this neuroscientific turn; what this turn will and should produce; and what implications it has for inter- or transdisciplinary inquiry.

Melissa M. Littlefield and Jenell M. Johnson provide an initial framework for this most recent of "turns" by bringing together 14 original essays by scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and neurosciences. The resulting collection will appeal to neuroscientists curious about their colleagues' interest in their work; scholars and students both in established neurodisciplines and in disciplines such as sociology or English wondering about how to apply neuroscience findings to their home disciplines; and to science, technology, and society scholars and students interested in the roles of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the construction of knowledge."

I should also say that I'm looking forward to reading essays in this volume by Justine Murison, who contributed a piece on a "neuroscientific turn" in the US in the 1840s, and by Bruce Michelson, whose essay on "the mind-sciences in a literature classroom" sounds immediately useful to me.

Congrats to all!     

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tim Newcomb in Inside Higher Ed

Just a short post with a great link... 

Tim Newcomb was recently interviewed in Inside Higher Ed on the subject of his book How Did Poetry Survive?  The Making of Modern American Verse.  The link is here: check it out!

Regular readers of this blog will remember my post about this book when it came out a few months ago (published by the University of Illinois Press).  As a refresher, here again is the book description, pasted in from its page:

"How Did Poetry Survive? traces the emergence of modern American poetry at the turn of the nineteenth century. American poetry had stalled: a small group of recently deceased New England poets still held sway, and few outlets existed for living poets. However, the United States' quickly accelerating urbanization in the early twentieth century opened new opportunities, as it allowed the rise of publications focused on promoting the work of living writers of all kinds. The urban scene also influenced the work of poets, shifting away from traditional subjects and forms to reflect the rise of buildings and the increasingly busy bustle of the city. Change was everywhere: new forms of architecture and transportation, new immigrants, new professions, new tastes, new worries.
This urbanized world called for a new poetry, and a group of new magazines entirely or chiefly devoted to exploring modern themes and forms led the way. Avant-garde "little magazines" succeeded not by ignoring or rejecting the busy commercial world that surrounded them, but by adapting its technologies of production and strategies of marketing for their own purposes.
With a particular focus on four literary magazines--Poetry, The Masses, Others, and The Seven Arts--John Timberman Newcomb shows how each advanced ambitious agendas combining urban subjects, stylistic experimentation, and progressive social ideals. All four were profoundly affected by World War I, and the poetry on their pages responded to the war and its causes with clarity and strength. While subsequent literary history has favored the poets whose work made them distinct--individuals singled out usually on the basis of a novel technique--Newcomb provides a denser, richer view of the history that hundreds of poets made."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No Animals We Could Name

 Blogging has been slow of late, dear reader, though not because there aren't always things to blog about.  I've been doing some academic writing of late and that--for me at least--means trying to devote 100% of my attention to the task.  But I'm back, and here's something you'll be interested in...

A few weeks back, Ted Sanders's book No Animals We Could Name was printed by Graywolf Press.  As many of you will know, Graywolf is a very well-known and prestigious literary publishing house.  For instance, if you go to their homepage you'll see that a book of theirs won the Pulitzer Prize this year for poetry.  This is an impressive venue, in other words.  What makes it even more impressive is that this collection of stories is being published by Graywolf after being selected as the winner of the 2011 Bakeless Prize for Fiction.  As every writer knows, it can be hard to garner attention for new work, and this is a very splashy way to make an entrance onto the literary scene!

Ted is a graduate of our MFA program and is currently a Lecturer in our department.  I couldn't be happier for him and this is a book I cannot wait to read.  Instead of pasting in an inadequate book description, let me direct you to an online review of the book that strikes me as being at once smart and helpfully descriptive, from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune.  You can find the link to the review here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Audrey Petty at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Hard to think about October now, in the dog days of summer.  But here goes! 

Audrey Petty will be offering a preview of her new book project, High-Rise Stories, at the Chicago Humanities Festival on October 21st. 

I thought our many Chicago-area alums in particular should know about this event, and indeed I hope to meet many of you there.  The festival's director, Matti Bunzl, has a very thoughtful post on his blog about Audrey's work and the Festival, which I strongly advise you to read.  You can find it by clicking here.

The book, which will be part of the Voices of Witness book series, is described on the series's website as follows:

"High-Rise Stories is an oral history book project that will gather stories from residents of Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, Robert Taylor Homes, Stateway Gardens and Cabrini-Green–all publicly-funded edifices that no longer exist.

In 2000, with the deconcentration of poverty in city neighborhoods as a goal, the Chicago Housing Authority initiated Plan for Transformation, an initiative that resulted in the demolition of thousands of housing units as well as widespread renovations and the construction of mixed-income developments. High Rise Stories aims to illuminate one of America’s most critical yet underreported social issues: fair and decent housing for the members of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

High Rise Stories will explore how generations of Chicago Housing Agency residents made homes for themselves within the walls of public housing, and how they have experienced the agency’s Plan for Transformation. Tenants’ accounts of community, displacement, removal, and relocation are not only crucial to Chicago’s social history, but are also key to any meaningful national conversation about poverty, housing reform, urban renewal and gentrification."

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