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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Melville and the Idea of Blackness

Late last week, Chris Freeburg wrote to say that he had just received the first advance copy of his new book.  As always, that's my cue to post/boast about it here! 

Freeburg's book, Melville and the Idea of Blackness: Race and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century America has been published by Cambridge University Press as part of its distinguished, ongoing series "Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture."

Freeburg is a scholar with great philosophical and theoretical range and part of what makes this particular book unique is its bid to reintegrate intellectual history with material and cultural histories of race in 19th-century America. Here is the book description, pasted in from the Cambridge University Press website:

"By examining the unique problems that 'blackness' signifies in Moby-Dick, Pierre, 'Benito Cereno' and 'The Encantadas', Christopher Freeburg analyzes how Herman Melville grapples with the social realities of racial difference in nineteenth-century America. Where Melville's critics typically read blackness as either a metaphor for the haunting power of slavery or an allegory of moral evil, Freeburg asserts that blackness functions as the site where Melville correlates the sociopolitical challenges of transatlantic slavery and U.S. colonial expansion with philosophical concerns about mastery. By focusing on Melville's iconic interracial encounters, Freeburg reveals the important role blackness plays in Melville's portrayal of characters' arduous attempts to seize their own destiny, amass scientific knowledge and perfect themselves. A valuable resource for scholars and graduate students in American literature, this text will also appeal to those working in American, African American and postcolonial studies."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

LAS Awards

As the start of a new semester slouches towards us, let me take as moment to recognize some faculty members affiliated with the English Department who were awarded prestigious and highly-competitive awards last year by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  These awards all warrant individual congratulations, to be sure, but I also take them as an indication and manifestation of the department's overall strength and depth.  And regular readers of this blog will remember that I already had occasion last Spring to kvell about the LAS teaching awards won by Jim Hansen and Kathryn Walkiewicz.

Janice Harrington and Jodi Byrd (whose primary departmental affiliation is American Indian Studies, but who also holds an appointment in English) were named as Helen Corley Petit Scholars for 2012-13. This is an honor given annually to exceptionally successful newly-tenured faculty members in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences in recognition of superior achievement in research, teaching, and service.

And both Renee Trilling and (again!) Jodi Byrd were honored among this year's recipients of LAS's Conrad Humanities Scholar Awards. The Conrad Humanities Scholar program (made possible by the extraordinary generosity of Arlys Streitmatter Conrad) provides recognition and research support for outstanding humanities scholars in the college if Liberal Arts and Sciences over a five year period.

I couldn't be happier to see my colleagues receive these awards!  They are all wonderful and utterly deserving--brilliant, hard-working, dedicated people who make life better for everyone in the department and the university.  Congratulations!

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